peteg's blog

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

I headed down to Coogee in the early evening of what was an incredibly hot and bushfire-polluted day: apocalyptic skies and very poor air quality. After reading some book on the headland I went for a very lazy paddle at the northern end of the beach: still cold in, and absolutely flat despite the gusty strong winds. Quite a few people on the sand, not many in the water. Afterwards I dried out for a bit closer to Gordons Bay but got moved along by a change that came through around 7pm: the much cooler southerly picked up and cleared the beach. The Smage tells me that the temperature dropped 12C in 15 minutes (starting somewhere close to 35C).

The Irishman

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A spur-of-the-moment with Dave. 4pm session at The Ritz, $10 each. We sat maybe five rows from the front as it was already a bit packed when we got there.

It's long (3.5 hours!), and for mine, mostly the same-old Scorsese. The first half or two-thirds had enough going on to keep me fairly engaged but I struggled when things zoomed down to Frank (Robert de Niro) alone with his old Catholic man concerns. The cast is huge: I thought that was Stephen Graham! — but was wrong to think Marisa Tomei was back for another go-round with Joe Pesci, the pick of the leading actors. He dials it back masterfully. In contrast Pacino as Hoffa couldn't do more than pretend to a 1980s Pacino performance.

For all that it did make me want to eat pizza. Jack's was closed (I thought he only took Mondays off) so we ended up at a place down at the beach that doesn't take their vegetarian options seriously.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. Coverage of stepson-of-not-that-Irishman-Chuckie-O'Brien Jack Goldsmith's recent book: excerpt at the New York Review of Books, Chris Nashawaty.

Elliot Ackerman: Dark at the Crossing.

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I enjoyed Ackerman's latest (Waiting for Eden) and so started trawling his back catalogue. This one is a bit of a tease: it's 2016-ish and somewhat ex-Iraqi, somewhat new-American Haris wants to cross from Turkey into Syria to join the Syrian Free Army in their struggle against Bashar al Assad. His timing turns out to be a bit wrong, he's a bit too trusting, and so his inchoate concerns are replaced by those of others. The woman most responsible is aptly summarised as Audrey al-Hepburn. Some of the description of that part of the world is great. The plot is not very satisfactory, which goes to show that Ackerman is improving.

Lawrence Osborne.

Barking Dogs Never Bite

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More Bong Joon-ho completism: can there ever be enough? Apparently this was his first feature. Office-working Bae Doo-na sure looked young in 2000. Her close friendship with a shopkeeper brings some gentle comedy. Kim Roe-ha is a convincing homeless man. I felt that leading man Lee Sung-Jae's reaction to the barking dog(s) was a bit premature, and his coupling with Kim Ho-jung is similarly unjustified — she's a frosty bitch for most of it. There's some signature co-incidentals and the cinematography is ace. I wonder if dog eating is still in fashion. Over two sittings, trying to make it last.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

A carbon copy of yesterday: I wandered down to Coogee for a late-ish lunch and this time I brought my sandwich. Still cold in. Even more people about. The strong southerly (? - but not northerly) had the sand and everything else flying about; the Englishpeople were struggling to get their Frisbee to go where they wanted at the north end of the bathtub. Apparently this burst of hot weather is at an end.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

Wandered down to Coogee in the early afternoon with the intention of eating a sandwich that I'd left on the bench at home (oops). Fortunately the banana yielded sufficient energy for me to get in at the north end of the beach for a brief and lazy paddle. The water remains a bit cold, clean and flat. Loads of people were baking on the sand on this hot day (31C) but not so many in.

Boom

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Over several sittings. Another Tennessee Williams misfire. Angel of Death Richard Burton and everyrichwoman Elizabeth Taylor play out the Liz and Dick show in 1968 somewhere near Italy. It's bad and entirely boring; somewhere I was lead to hope for something in the vicinity of The Night of the Iguana.

Vincent Canby spills more words on the production history of the related plays than the movie. Roger Ebert made me think it might be so bad it's good (like his own scriptwriting efforts) but it simply isn't.

Brian Toohey: Secret: The Making of Australia's Security State.

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Grim reading. It feels like an assembly of Toohey's reporting for the National Times and other now (substantially) defunct media outlets. Deborah Snow made it sound like a pile of scuttlebutt, and there is some of that alongside some China apologetics and attempts to sketch a rational policy for the defence of Australia. His most thought provoking contention is that Australia would be in a better place now if it had been forced to build its own relations in Asia after World War II. Unfortunately this and others like it are not very actionable.

The spooky stuff is mostly a waste of time, he reckons, though his assessment is very incomplete. He's harsh on Gillard’s foreign policy; I recall that her government approved the permanent stationing of US Military personnel in Australia, which was something that even John Howard had avoided. On nuclear war and Việt Nam he is too brief and may as well have deferred to Daniel Ellsberg's lifework. I learnt a bit about Exmouth and the fabulous-looking North West Cape during Toohey's lecturing on Pine Gap and U.S. submarine command-and-control. I wonder what to read into our lack of sovereignty.

Reviews are legion. The few I glanced at use this book as a vehicle for banging on about their own preoccupations.

Suddenly, Last Summer

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A strange little psycho thriller. Tennessee Williams misfired with the script, and it was beyond the strong cast to make good: Elizabeth Taylor does her best but Katharine Hepburn is the more convincing. About 90 minutes of talky setup collapses into an empty climax that I took to be a vacuous warning about the perils of the gay lifestyle. Lobotomiser Montgomery Clift never seems to blink.

Bosley Crowther at the time. IMDB suggests he must have written something more scathing somewhere else.

The Professionals

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Second time around, somewhat by accident, over several sittings. Burt Lancaster, Lee Marvin, Claudia Cardinale, Jack Palance. A Mexican revolution. It makes little sense.

Bosley Crowther in 1966.

Terminator: Dark Fate

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Well! Arnie is back and Dendy has $10 tickets to their mostly-empty lounge in Newtown, so I headed to their 1:30pm screening on this day-after-opening. The girl at the counter suggested the front row was too close, but I'd say seat B3 was too far, and the people up the back probably should have watched it on their 8K screens at home. The US-style chairs have leg supports but don't recline. Apparently there's a menu but I didn't get asked before, after or during.

This movie was conceived in weariness: all of the tropes are stale. The draw was mainly that James Cameron just may have been able to inflate the script, but instead we merely got some fem-heavy politicking and too much senseless chatter. The politics are threadbare: we begin in Mexico City but of course Texas is where you go when you need security. Arnie has a Latina wife and Latino son, for unconvincing reasons, and these are rapidly and hygienically disposed of when the plot demands. Linda Hamilton gave me Hillary Clinton vibes, perhaps because her F-bombs were all that elevated this to MA15+ from whatever T2 was rated back in the day. I grant that Mackenzie Davis is a far better actress than Emilia Clarke but not even Meryl Streep could have made those dank dark airplane scenes work. There is nothing particularly clever or inventive at any point, and the ending is surprisingly lame. Arnie's old-man Terminator is milking-it poignant in a Hugh Jackman sorta way (again!), and it is absurd that he can take it to the latest and greatest. Natalia Reyes as the latest pivotal historical figure and Gabriel Luna do what they can.

IMDB had already panned this thing before its Australian release. I was surprised it doesn't seem to be on the big screens at e.g. The Ritz. A. O. Scott. Jake Wilson. Dana Stevens.

NIDA: Goldilocks by Michael Gow.

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A $10 cheapie from UNSW Creative Practice Lab, with Dave after we spent the afternoon packing most of my junk into the troopy. In the Playhouse, three rows from the front; we had tickets for the second row but it was already occupied by friends and fans. Not too many people.

I had some hopes for this as Michael Gow is an apparently-famous playwright, though I hadn't heard of him. The story is essentially a compilation of cliched tropes that amount to no more than what the blurb suggested: the Drake equation, Fermi's response, a female alien who defeats Gow's conceit that there might be dark "moral" matter keeping intelligent species apart. And so forth. It had a few good performances — specifically the alien girl and the computer hacker — but I can't find the actors' names. The use of mixed media is getting a bit stale.

Afterwards we went to Chat Thai on Campbell for supper and then Café Hernandez for tea.

The Razor's Edge (1984)

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An almost scene-by-scene remake of the 1946 original and in all ways worse. Over many sittings. This was apparently Bill Murray's dramatic debut but he is only convincing when horsing around. Unfortunately the supporting cast is generally worse. Catherine Hicks out horribles Gene Tierney in the role of the jilting and the jilted. Theresa Russell fares better in Anne Baxter's. It may be that Denholm Elliott outdid Clifton Webb. James Keach is bland. Saeed Jaffrey played Billy Fish in the incomparable The Man Who Would Be King. The editing cuts directly to salient scenes with no sense of time flowing. There's no point to it at all. Lifeless.

Janet Maslin at the time, and Roger Ebert.

/noise/beach/2019-2020 | Link

I've been resisting going to the beach these past few weeks as I know that if I do I won't get moving until next winter. Well, today I broke down and attempted to combine some light and brief exercise with some rumination at Gordons Bay in the late afternoon. I rode down there as usual, just as the day was cooling off after being quite warm at midday. Loads of smoke haze from the big bushfires up north. The water was warm-ish in, totally flat, and the tide was as far out as I've ever seen it. I got in off the southern rocks, scampering past a rather large and colourful crab while a much smaller one made way for me. Two dogs, one one on the beach, the other a bit along the south rocks. The locals seem friendly just now. Read some book on the headland in a vague attempt to dry off.

Cactus

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This one was on the pile for an age and I forget why; perhaps a Shane Jacobson jag from Kenny before he did IGA ads? One ocker bloke kidnaps another ocker bloke and they go for a long drive out into the dead heart of 'straya in 2008; cliches ensue. Bryan Brown, Travis McMahon, David Lyons. Jasmine Yuen Carrucan wrote and directed; IMDB suggests she's a second bean camera lady and this was her final cinematic effort.

The Lineup

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Back in 1958 the San Francisco Police Department collaborated with Don Siegel in making this anti-drug-trafficking propaganda piece. Everything is black and white! Notionally Eli Wallach is a Floridian fixer inexplicably flown in with his mentor/handler Robert Keith to collect the heroin muled by unsuspecting innocents who cruise from Hong Kong. Things go predictably ary. We're promised a finale at the hands of the mob but it seems SFPD likes to think it can take care of its own, though Warner Anderson's wooden inspector is a long way from Dirty Harry. It's all a bit meh.

Baby Doll

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A black-and-white Tennessee Williams from 1956, prompted by its presence on the Ensemble stage presently. Directed by Elia Kazan. Stars a very young Eli Wallach (again cast as a Sicilian) and Karl Malden. Pivot Carroll Baker blows hot and cold and every which way. The characters and conceit don't add up to as much as his other works. The plot is a bit like The Club: a larger-scale Syndicate opens a cotton gin in Tiger Tail County, Mississippi and puts the profits of the local old-boy influence networks under intense strain.

Bosley Crowther was unimpressed at the time: "Three of its four main people are morons or close to being same, and its fourth is a scheming opportunist who takes advantage of the others' lack of brains."

Birds of Passage

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A spur-of-the-moment burn of a free ticket at the Verona. 6:20pm session, Cinema 1: I was allocated a second row seat that proved way too close for a movie with subtitles and so moved to the third. Maybe a total of eight people. Palace Cinemas should make it free to book online, at least for members.

I got suckered by the glowing reviews (A. O. Scott, Paul Byrnes). In reality it's a Godfather mashup, or more accurately a tale of a Colombian Godmother (Carmiña Martínez) whose power animals are birds. The morality is entirely banal (don't grow and sell drugs ok) and the loads of local colour and tradition are hard to care about when the plot is so cliched. Disappointingly the girl on the poster (Natalia Reyes playing daughter Zaida) is characterless. Some of the cinematography is great but with the droughts in my ancestral lands I spent most of it wondering what they do for water in the middle of that dust bowl.

Afterwards I had dinner with Dave at Chat Thai on Campbell in Thaitown. It's worth waiting for the 10pm supper menu.

The Razor's Edge (1946)

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A Gene Tierney, Clifton Webb jag from Laura. Based on a W. Somerset Maugham novel. The whole thing is pretty dire; somehow second banana Anne Baxter won an Oscar for dipsomania. Tierney is atrocious as a money-grubbing socialite who can't get over Tyrone Power. Webb does his best to inflate aristocratic America. Set substantially in France after World War I (Paris and the Riviera) with an excruciating interlude in India and a prelude in Chicago. Long, mostly tedious, over many sittings.

Bosley Crowther.

Chan Koonchung: The Unbearable Dreamworld of Champa the Driver.

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Kindle. Something somewhere reminded me that the author of The Fat Years had a new-ish book out, but not that it wouldn't be worth reading. Briefly: an unqualified Tibetan residing in Lhasa decides he's driven and serviced his Chinese boss sufficiently to justify driving and servicing her daughter in Beijing. Along the way some dognappers (food) are busted and some out-of-town petitioners have their heads busted. It's a bum dream: the first half is mostly porn, and the second tries to throw some Tibetan folk wisdom against the subterranean walls of 2016 Beijing where nothing much sticks, not even blood. All of the characters are sketchy, especially the women.

Rupert Winchester at the Mekong Review. John W. W. Zeiser.

Gone Baby Gone

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Apparently the third time around with this first outing for Ben Affleck as a director. I still like his opening portraits of a Boston neighbourhood, though Casey Affleck's voiceover is now so purely a very tired Stanford admission essay. It flags a bit towards the end. I wish they'd fleshed out Michelle Monaghan's character some more; she does well with what she's got. The cast is strong.

Roger Ebert at the time. Manohla Dargis didn't like Affleck's Altman-esque framing with the Bostonian natives.

Andrew McGahan: The Rich Man's House.

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I heard about McGahan's imminent demise a few months ago but somehow did not register the posthumous release of this novel. That goes to show that I was premature in ranking his output.

Briefly: presumably drawing inspiration from David Walsh, McGahan takes us on a ride of fanciful geography and history to the Southern Ocean — somewhere not too far from Hobart — where a billionaire mountain climber has built a "submerged" mansion in the summit of a 3km high mountain that stands about ten kilometres away from the 25km high "Wheel" that he conquered in his youth. Layered on top is a weak parapsychology which powers a revenge plot overstuffed with horror tropes. The writing is his usual: loads of foreshadowing, overly repetitious and occasionally quite fine.

The main flaw in this work is that it is a puree of so many other things. The mountain climber as Ozymandias. The billionaire as Bruce Wayne. Elements of a James Bond villain, mental instability where previously there were none, an anguished planetary consciousness like Asimov's Gaia before Daneel. Innuendo reported as interleaved excerpts, somewhat like a fat Brunner. Architectural fetishism; the main character is approximately the daughter of Frank Lloyd Wright. The neatly folded clothes of Jasper Fforde. The Sherpas. Tales from the Crypt moralism. There's an Alien: Prometheus vibe, and of course Solaris and doubtlessly other disaster movies I haven't seen. Drugs are bad ok. Portal!

A less severe flaw is that the characters all have the same voice — McGahan's — and it often feels like he's talking to them and not us for we learn little. Another is that the whole thing reads like the Risks Digest doesn't exist. Yet another is the sheer quantity of Chekhovian devices, many of which went off without motivation.

I'm going to rank it at 4.5 — above Underground and below The White Earth.

James Bradley reminded me that we've seen some of this before, in Wonders of a Godless World. Reviews are legion and typically fawning.

Twin Peaks: The Missing Pieces

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This is an assembly of scenes that didn't make it into the prequel movie Fire Walk with Me, shot and edited by David Lynch, and as such doesn't add up to a story. It's clear why he dropped some of them as they don't always cohere. There are a few fun bits, such as those featuring Chris Isaak's bare-knuckled FBI agent. Some of the more Lynchian bits made their way into the 2017 continuation. Clearly a sop to parched fans who had little reason to believe there'd be more in 2014.

Tales from the Crypt

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So-very-British pseudo-horror overflowing with stodgy moralism and cliches. A Joan Collins jag from The Big Sleep and her eyes have never been wider. Peter Cushing does his best to elevate things as a trashman ingenue shining with old-world working-class innocence in one of the many episodes. Little is asked of Ralph Richardson as the Crypt Keeper. The mythos is a bust. I watched it over many sittings. Perhaps best considered a time capsule of early 1970s low-brow English film making.

Roger Ebert tells me it's based on a comic. Vincent Canby.

My Cousin Vinny

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A jag from Dave off the poster for The Irishman at The Ritz. Joe Pesci is perfectly cast here, he says, and Marisa Tomei. Having now seen it I concur: she's fab, stealing every scene and more than earning her Oscar. Pesci does very well at dialing it up and down; it's probably the best thing I've seen him do. I was a bit surprised by the lack of violence though he retains his signature f-bombs. Karate-kid Ralph Macchio and Mitchell Whitfield play the young Yankees in distress. The plot riffs on the well-worn notion that lawyering in the South is deeply weird; see also The Devil's Advocate and sundry others. It's fun, so don't think too hard.

Roger Ebert gave it a poor overall rating but dug some bits. Vincent Canby painted by the numbers.

The Dead Don't Die

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With Dave at The Ritz after a Viet Street Food lunch in Marrickville. About ten people total came to the 4:40pm session (eight more than I expected). We sat five rows from the front. I went in prepped for a not-enough-ideas Jarmusch effort generally inferior to his last memorable one, and was therefore less disappointed than Dave who had expectations of it being intrinsically worth watching. Ultimately the many missed opportunities and loose ends were too frustrating. The frame is a Twin Peaks-ish small town where the cops (Adam Driver, Bill Murray, Chloë Sevigny) have few ideas on how to deal with a zombie apocalypse. Tom Waits narrates as a foraging hermit. Steve Buscemi's "make America white again" obnoxious trolling is never cashed, and neither is Caleb Landry Jones as someone who might have had a novel angle on the zombie mind. The children just evaporate, as does Tilda Swinton's katana-wielding Scots lady (and whatever did she do to that computer?). There are a few mild jokes (coffee! wifi!) and a lot of shrugging judgement.

A. O. Scott.

Elliot Ackerman: Waiting for Eden.

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A brief and powerful story about a couple of Marines, a wife and the ravages of war. Ackerman brilliantly focuses on precisely and only what he wants to observe, giving few words to the familiar and expected things. The plot is a bit too predictable but that's not critical to what he has in mind. I came away thinking that this is what (obvious referent) Johnny Got His Gun could have been.

Anthony Swofford reviewed it at length.

Fury

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A black-and-white Fritz Lang 1936 courtroom procedural, eventually. A bloke getting married (spoiler) morphs into one angry man after the inhabitants of a small town attempt to lynch him by burning down the jailhouse he's held in after a poor bit of police work. (It's about mobs, not the mob.) Spencer Tracy leads but is mostly absent. Sylvia Sidney is the prospective wife. Set somewhere in the wilds of the Midwest. The ending is quite limp after the hard-nosed setup.

Frank S. Nugent.

Harper

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A strong cast (Paul Newman, Lauren Bacall, Janet Leigh, ...) tries to update the hard boiled L.A. noir of Bogart/Chandler to colour in 1966 with middling success. Newman does get some great lines, but Mitchum's effort a decade later is superior. There's a kidnapping, maybe, and everyone is in on everything but not all get their comeuppance; script is so tiresomely formulaic that by the time Newman recovers the money you've forgotten there was money. Apparently there's a sequel The Drowning Pool which I probably won't bother chasing up.

Bosley Crowther reckoned it was stale on arrival.

Gun Crazy

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A blacklisted Dalton Trumbo wrote the script for this black-and-white 1950 paint-by-the-numbers crime-is-bad-ok pulp fiction B-movie. Manohla Dargis claimed it was a classic in his review of Trumbo. This is not credible. Briefly reptilian-eyed Englishwoman Peggy Cummins plays a Bonnie who meets her American Clyde (John Dall, a sap) at a circus where he outdoes her at trick shooting. The opening courtroom scene sees him as a child packed off to reform school for stealing a gun, the possession of which is somehow essential to him though he refuses to use one lethally. Guns are OK, OK? They just are! Chicago! Albuquerque! California! Crime was so much easier back then, but is so much more convenient and lucrative now. Crime has been democratised! There's a fairground scene that makes them out to be all-American children, even this deep into grasping adulthood.

H. H. T. (?) at the New York Times, at the time.

Papillon

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Dalton Trumbo wrote most of it (AFAICT). Also a Dustin Hoffman jag. Steve McQueen leads as a Frenchman who attempts to free himself from a French prison island somewhere in the vicinity of Honduras. Two and a half hours later he does and we can all go do something else. Some of the cinematography is gorgeous. The acting is uniformly lame. The poor crocodile they wrestle so clearly has its trap tied shut, which is a clear metaphor for the entire movie. The signature Trumbo interstitial dream sequences are again poorly realised. It sometimes takes on aspects of Guantánamo, and being based on a book of dubious verity, is therefore entirely of the moment. The IMDB rating is about 50% too high.

Ebert was as bored in 1973 as I was now. Vincent Canby similarly, at the time. Manohla Dargis tells me it was remade just last year with Rami Malek as Hoffman. The futility.

Tim Winton: The Riders.

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Kindle. Second time around. Winton wrote about writing this in one of his autobios; suffice it to say he is very kind to his Irish hosts and less impressed by the rest of Europe, save for Greece, which "is like Australia invaded by the Irish ... Nothin' works and no one gives a shit. Perfect." He's ready to admit it probably depends on the people you meet. The opening movement teases with tales of the hard yakka of nesting and the mateship that arises. Soon enough we're supposed to be on the hunt for a missing person but really it's a story of a working-class salt-of-the-earth bloke from Fremantle and his young daughter going for broke in so-recently-friendly locales in 1987, which in turn is really a vehicle for Winton to opine on various touristic black holes, somewhat like the most-recent Kevin Barry. I wasn't satisfied; all I got was the odd transcendent description and a lack of countervailing voices, perhaps because I didn't stop to interpret the horse riders. The section on Amsterdam was particularly poor. Was this Winton's only book set outside Australia? Clearly he was too far from his littoral zones for comfort.

George Stade for the New York Times at the time.

Sightseers

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A suggestion from Roman W. A new couple goes on a caravan holiday around England while her nutty mum stays home. The humour is low key, like The Breaker Upperers with a side of The Office awkwardness. There's a Westie in the past and present tenses, but I was really hoping for some zombies to leaven what is a tired trope: the master-apprentice serial killers, telegraphed early on and proceeding as you'd expect. Mickey and Mallory these guys are not. I mostly felt like I was laughing at rather than with; the funniest bit for mine had Alice Lowe lovingly laying out some self-knitted crochless underwear. Others might enjoy her yelling "this is not my vagina!" repeatedly. She's been in a lot of better things than this, but not since it seems.

Kevin Barry: Night Boat to Tangier.

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Kindle. Transparently Trainspotting meets Waiting for Godot, without the iconoclasm of either. Two early-50s Irishmen sit in a ferry terminal in Spain waiting for their "crusty" (dreadlocked; Australian "feral") daughter of ambiguous parentage to arrive. Most of the book is a retrospective of them running drugs from Morocco via Spain to the west coast of Ireland, their rudimentary indulgence of women and drugs, their squandering of the proceeds in real estate projects, all tendentiously: Moss is not a "colourful character", Charlie makes a minor Begbie. The remains of these days have little to say to those who weren't there on those nights of "legend". Things get a bit twins-y like The Solid Mandala without making enough of the dualisms. On their telling no-one would ever do drugs (so don’t do drugs ok). There is nothing like Lucky's "thinking" here to mesmerise and centre; the style is uninnovative modernism. Some of the writing and motifs are quite fine, but clangers like "the answer to love is not hate" let alone the numerology and busted superstition make me think that Barry is too much category error.

Dwight Garner phones his review in; he seems to excessively quote every text now. Alan Warner suggests Endgame is more apt, and is more indulgent. Declan O’Driscoll reckons Pinter is the even more apt referent, also quotes at length, and provides the keenest critique I found. Perhaps Barry's point is that these gents represent a solipsistic generation that will plead for romantic indulgence of their past crimes and vacuity while the futureless-future as represented by daughter Dilly will just walk on by. And yes, it might be that trite. Also Nicole Flattery.

A Face in the Crowd

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Another directed by Elia Karzan. Black-and-white, 1957: Andy Griffiths is an all-American bullshit merchant who is discovered in gaol by local radio lady Patricia O'Neal; she keeps it clean until her wiles are all she's got. The upward trajectory proceeds through Arkansas radio to NYC TV megastardom; the Grand Ole Oprey is mentioned but bypassed. Observing the transition to the Kennedy era of TV politics, Griffiths is charged with spruiking a right wing senator with standard Lockean and patrician tropes. Things go as Hollywood feels they have to, stretching credulity by positing moral outrage when shrugs are what you get. A young made-up-younger Lee Remick twirls her battons. Tom Waits for the remake!

Bosley Crowther was right (at the time) that the rise has its moments but things go stale well before the cop-out resolution. Sean O'Neal observes that I'm very late to see this Trumpian classic.

Johnny Got His Gun

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Young men don't have homes, that's why they must go out and kill each other.
— Father Robards dishing out a busted civics lesson.

A Timothy Bottoms jag from The Last Picture Show. Dalton Trumble adapted the screenplay from his own novel (of 1939) and directed (in 1971). The tail end of World War I sees a very young American lose just about everything and nevertheless be kept alive for unmotivated military/scientific/medical/plot reasons. Black-and-white in the later timeline, colour flashbacks. Jason Robards plays dead like Magnolia, Donald Sutherland an unhelpful Jesus. It's all kooky dystopia: a bit Brazil, A Clockwork Orange, The Loved One. It often loses momentum with fragmentary and sometimes poorly realised dream sequences. Monty Python had more fun with their knight.

Roger Ebert liked it at the time, Roger Greenspun less so.

Trumbo

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On Dave's suggestion, and something of a Diane Lane jag from Rumble Fish which I began rewatching. A different time of American greatness when they proudly purged Commies, constitution be damned. This mines similar territory to Clooney’s Good Night and Good Luck but is far funnier, including some vintage work by John Goodman with a baseball bat. Bryan Cranston as feted scriptwriter Dalton Trumbo ably anchors it all and got an Oscar nom. Louis CK and Elle Fanning give him something to bounce off. Helen Mirren does her own thing. Christian Berkel's Otto Preminger is irredeemably hammy. I'll have to go mine Trumbo's oeuvre now.

Manohla Dargis was unimpressed at the time.

Randy Kennedy: Presidio.

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Kindle. Texas borderlands noir. Kennedy cites The Last Picture Show as an influence but clearly wasn't paying enough attention as he omits society inductions requiring hot young things to get naked. Far too many words are spilled on descriptions that don't develop plot or character, such as all the times the main character parks the car, goes for a walk, and returns. It sometimes felt like a failing attempt to mine similar territory to Lish's Preparation for the Next Life. Adam Johnson made far better use of Clovis. Briefly, two brothers and a Mennonite girl go for a road trip across the Texas Panhandle. All are defined by their actions (variously thievery, duty, cuckoldry, apostasy) and a general lack of interiority. The vibe is, like Tarantino's latest, rampant nostalgia for the great days of the 1970s and a long time before.

Lee Child sold it to me.

Viva Zapata!

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An Anthony Quinn jag from Lion of the Desert and Marlon Brando completism. Entirely black-and-white, 1952. Quinn got an Oscar for his effort as brother to Brando's Zapata. Written by John Steinbeck, directed by Elia Kazan. Over several sittings as it failed to grip. Things go as you'd expect for a fictionalised hagiography of a Mexican revolutionary, who Wikipedia suggests deserved something better. Many shots of Brando (framing, expression, shiny skin, bulging eyes, whatever) reminded me of classic Orson Welles. The scene in the church was pretty funny, and to a lesser extent, the one where Brando meets his future in-laws. Perhaps his flattest performance overall.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

The Awful Truth

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More Cary Grant completism. This one doesn't have a dire IMDB rating, which suggests people no longer watch black-and-white screwball comedies from 1937. At its core is an uppercrust, idle, NYC-society sex farce featuring Irene Dunne. She grew me on me as things dragged on. Most scenes are paint-by-the-numbers, sometimes with mild twists, often saved only by Grant's heroic, sometimes manic, physicality or Dunne's zaniness and dawning awareness that Grant is the singular man in town, just as the formula requires. The dialogue is knowing but not particularly sharp, and completely lacking in broader social commentary. The dog is very well trained, and there's some fantastic work by a black cat in the closing scenes. Grant and Dunne made at least two more of these together. Loads of details at Wikipedia.

Salman Rushdie: Shame.

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Kindle. I've been meaning to re-read this for a while. It's a quasi-historical-fictional account of Pakistan's political upheavals of the 1970s and early 1980s: the unsteady rise of Zulfikar Ali Bhutto and concomitantly his nemesis Zia-al-Haq. They and their families are lightly disguised; Rushdie winkingly denies that the "virgin Ironpants" is Benazir Bhutto and so forth. I liked his authorial insertions, though they are strongly normative and unsurprising, and my history remains too weak to draw deeper parallels with actual history or fathom his mythology. Mohammed Hanif is far funnier in his account of al-Haq's end days.

The book is very quotable.

Politeness can be a trap, and Bilquis was caught in the web of her husband's courtesy. 'As you wish,' she wrote back, and what made her write this was not entirely guilt, but also something untranslatable, a law which obliged her to pretend that Raza's words meant no more than they said. This law is called takallouf. To unlock a society, look at its untranslatable words. Takallouf is a member of that opaque, world-wide sect of concepts which refuse to travel across linguistic frontiers: it refers to a form of tongue-tying formality, a social restraint so extreme as to make it impossible for the victim to express what he or she really means, a species of compulsory irony which insists, for the sake of good form, on being taken literally. When takallouf gets between a husband and a wife, look out.

On the dangers of a theocratic state (Rushdie claims that only Iran and Israel were such at the time, but Wikipedia suggests he was blinkered):

So-called Islamic 'fundamentalism' does not spring, in Pakistan, from the people. It is imposed on them from above. Autocratic regimes find it useful to espouse the rhetoric of faith, because people respect that language, are reluctant to oppose it. This is how religions shore up dictators; by encircling them with words of power, words which the people are reluctant to see discredited, disenfranchised, mocked.

But the ramming-down-the-throat point stands. In the end you get sick of it, you lose faith in the faith, if not qua faith then certainly as the basis for a state. And then the dictator falls, and it is discovered that he has brought God down with him, that the justifying myth of the nation has been unmade. This leaves only two options: disintegration, or a new dictatorship ... no, there is a third, and I shall not be so pessimistic as to deny its possibility.

The third option is the substitution of a new myth for the old one. Here are three such myths, all available from stock at short notice: liberty; equality; fraternity. I recommend them highly.

As with everything Rushdie, coverage is legion on the web. Shehryar Fazli provides a broad perspective from 2012.

Lion of the Desert

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An Oliver Reed (Italian General Graziani) jag from The Big Sleep, and more Rod Steiger (Mussolini) completism. Anthony Quinn plays another Bedouin in a liberation struggle: briefly, Omar Mukhtar leads the peoples of Libya in mounted guerrilla skirmishes against the Italian Fascists who are trying to rebuild the Roman Empire between the world wars. Two-and-a-half hours later he gets hanged for his efforts. I imagine there are more parallels with Giap than the obvious (teacher, strategist in a guerilla war, improbable military victories, etc.).

The production is a bit incoherent as some Bedouin have English accents, as do some Italians (notably Reed). Quinn gets by with his American drawl. There is some hammy work by other actors, for instance by Gastone Moschin whose shtick was significantly more effective in The Godfather II. The goal was clearly a lush Lean-style effort, but the result is a drawn out and constipated history lesson. The high rating on IMDB is probably due to a conflation of art with valour, just like The Bandit. I won't be bothering with director/producer Moustapha Akkad's The Message now.

Vincent Canby connects it with the politics of 1981.

White Mischief

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Greta (you can keep your pearls on) Scacchi — she’s in Palm Beach of course — goes gold digging during World War II amongst the unpatriotic expats of unimaginatively colonial British Kenya. Her entrepôt is anciently titled, landed, porcine, freshly-minted husband Joss Ackland, who feigns unfamiliarity with his accountant and blandly canvasses the possibility of losing the war. An early scene with Hugh Grant assures us that the fight she puts up when she encounters the titled, unmoneyed and entirely resistible Charles Dance (dial familiar from the endless Game of Thrones ads) is just what she was trained to do. The inevitable happens before the characters are sufficiently developed for us to care, and the following necessities (pariahs!) still leaves ten minutes to go. It's a nothingburger; if you've got the genes and the stomach to use them you'll always be just fine navigating patrimonial bullshit.

The draw for me was Sarah Miles (sporting the same boofy hairstyle a decade after The Big Sleep). Her character is a wanton miss, as is John Hurt's. Director Michael Radford did better with his immediately-previous effort: 1984, which was also a remake. Every trope has a short halflife (e.g., the camera goes MIA rapidly), the exploitation is deeply wired (why revisit this stinky event?), the avarice is mostly absent rentiers. These's an air of fraud to the whole thing.

Roger Ebert in 1988, muted and workmanlike.

3 Women

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Altman completism, and the least least Altman of the Altmans I've yet seen. It's 1977. Two Texan gals move to California in separate waves of migration: Shelley Duval (before The Shining) and Sissy Spacek, both very young but essentially what they've been since. There are very few of his classic moves; all I noticed was the overlapping dialogue around the swimming pool. Things are episodic, amiable but tedious, until identities become as fluid as a much later David Lynch.

I'm not going to claim I understood much, and even Ebert couldn't find the words at the time but spilt many more in 2004.

The Last Picture Show

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A dying small town in Texas, somewhat proximate to exotic, cheap Mexico and about-the-same Oklahoma, loads of old classic folk tunes and barely serviceable trucks, in black-and-white in 1971. It's part of a brace of movies of that time pining for the peak America of the 1950s (cf American Grafitti). The draw was a very young Jeff Bridges.

Things begin like a series of Altman vignettes before we hit the grooves of an overarching narrative. Timothy Bottoms's Sonny is the pivot around which seemingly all the women swing; for instance forty-something Ellen Burstyn with a steady gaze: "No... I think I'll just go on home." These are stories of those who remained to brave the perennial disappointment in their lack of football skills. The mental impairment of Sonny's brother (?) is sensitively handled. Town bike Cybill Shepherd escapes to Dallas for college and that is that for all the young men in the town. Bridges joins the army and ships out to Korea. The following year's football team is far superior.

The lack of judgement (in both senses) of the inhabitants of the town strikes me as implausible; most small places make something of their generational hatred and feuds (cf Cloudstreet and so forth). The two Oscar winners anchor the older generation: Ben Johnson is the all father (a wised up Ed Hurley?), owner of all three town hubs: the cafe, the pool hall and the movie theatre. Cloris Leachman plays a cougar who's not too happy when she gets traded in for a younger model but allows herself to be talked around after a larger tragedy.

For some reason director Peter Bogdanovich, writer Larry McMurtry and the cast (!) thought a superannuation sequel was a good idea.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 2004.

Wuthering Heights (1939)

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A Laurence Olivier jag from Marathon Man. A classic costume drama in luxurious, Oscar-winning black and white. I read the book a long time ago and recall only its skeleton.

The story proper starts with some excruciating child acting overlaid with the kind of upbeat American music intended to evoke paradisial sproghood. After that the chronology gets a bit difficult to follow as the adult actors/characters do not visibly age, and so I experienced the rest as a series of set-piece encounters between the star crossed lovers which amount to little more than cliché: either the actress playing Cathy (Merle Oberon) was really bad, or the character doesn't translate to the screen, or her accent was off, or something. Olivier's Heathcliff is to the manor borne by currents of American wealth (represented by fine clothes, a horse and a continuing absence of manners). Servants apparently last forever. There are dogs everywhere. Eventually Cathy carks it for the convenience of the plot, releasing us too from its death grip; I'm glad I didn't have to sit through another generation of these characters.

I remember vaguely feeling that the novel doesn't justify the assertions that Heathcliff is dark, evil, etc. by his actions, at least by modern standards; in other words it was all nineteenth-century fake news. Similarly the source material had a kind of virginal perfection to it that slips through the fingers of the vacuous, grasping idle classes here. John Quiggin grimly observes that we're all going to have to get with that program now.

The Enemy Below

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Robert Mitchum completism. Once again it's World War II and the Greatest Generation is showing us how it's done, this time in colour and without excess moralising. Mitchum captains an American destroyer that encounters a German U-boat in a region of the southern Atlantic within a day's sailing of Trinidad (i.e., nowhere). After some vintage stagey posturing in a slow first movement we get a taut chess match with some nice work from Curd Jürgens as the U-boat captain. It's nowhere close to Das Boot but the special effects did win the 1957 Oscar. Mitchum is at peak everyman here: war is just what blokes do. Jürgens anachronistically opines that it has become all too mechanistic.

The Yakuza

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A Robert Mitchum jag from recent things. Before Kill Bill rendered Japsploitation obsolete there was this effort, vintage even in 1972. After some sketchy setup in L.A. the main players move to Tokyo for what I took to be a series of cultural education scenes. The pace is soporific. Yank tanks on the streets of Japan? Running guns to the Yakuza? Transparent twists? Cultural appropriation? They get down to business in the last third and finally let us go do something else.

The Yakuza side of things is all twisty with rules, honour, customs, swords, violence personalized, family, etc. The American side is classic extremist vengeance: let's not concern ourselves with those great Western tropes (law, justice, monogamy, etc. — especially the etc.) for we have the guns. Fortunately the local fixer reassures us that the local cops care less than we do. Director Sydney Pollack has form for this sort of exotic vacuity.

Roger Ebert at the time. For some reason Wikipedia has tons of details.

Marathon Man

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A strange thriller starring Dustin Hoffman and Laurence Olivier. If I got this right, in 1976 Hoffman was tortured and half-killed by Nazi "White Angel" Olivier (in a switcheroo from The Boys from Brazil), up in NYC from Uruguay to cash his diamonds personally after his daigou brother's fatal car accident involving an equally obnoxious Jew. As far as I could tell this was entirely pointless as Hoffman was no more involved than black ops agent William Devane made him; I mean, Devane's entire role seemed to be to talk the plot to him and us as an in-frame narrator. Marthe Keller played the Marta Hari, literally, but woe, she cannot control her emotions. Before we got to that Hoffman's brother Roy Scheider swanned around Europe for quite a while doing god knows what. Why Olivier walked the Holocaust-survivor-filled jewel markets of NYC expecting impunity eluded me. And so forth. I grant that the acting is solid.

IMDB rates it 7.5/10 but it's a lot more vacuous than that: the moral is to keep a loaded automatic handgun in your desk draw at all times, especially if you're a history grad student at Columbia.

Roger Ebert was similarly defeated.

Crossfire

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A bad boy Robert Ryan jag from The Outfit, Robert Mitchum from the Chandlers, Gloria Grahame from The Man Who Never Was. A heavily moralising noir from 1947. Some soldiers meet some people at a bar, a couple of murders ensue, the bad guy did it. Don't be racist, OK. The plot is more talked than developed. Robert Young did put in an enjoyable performance.

The Outfit

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Robert Duvall, and somewhere in there, Jane Greer. A buddy revenge flick: Duvall gets out of the can, his brother buys the farm, he and old partner Joe Don Baker dismantle the operation that they blundered into. His main squeeze Karen Black isn't allowed to get too much in the way of the men and doesn't hold a grudge against some vintage chauvinism. Robert Ryan smolders. I didn't follow all the salients. Nicely shot. Loads of muscle cars. 1973.

Vincent Canby: "a 30-Year-Late B Movie From M-G-M". Roger Ebert saw more in it, somehow. He's right about the shady car dealers.

The Big Sleep (1978)

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Robert Mitchum reprises the role of Philip Marlowe; Sarah Miles, paired with him in Ryan's Daughter, plays a jazzy weekend. The classically labyrinthine Chandler story is streamlined and relocated to England, which at least allowed for a stellar British cast. So many foxy ladies: Joan Collins fends at a dodgy bookshop, while Candy Clark stars in what they're selling out back. Jimmy Stewart is the mostly dead Big Daddy. Oliver Reed threatens but never follows through. It's very poorly rated on IMDB, but not that bad; I grant it gets a bit Midsomer Murders at times. Some of it familiar but I'm pretty sure I haven't seen it before.

Roger Ebert liked it less than Mitchum's previous effort. Janet Maslin was also unconvinced.

Farewell, My Lovely

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Robert Mitchum plays Philip Marlowe. This one was made in 1975 but has its gaze firmly on Bogart's 1940s: there's loads of neon and arty cinematography. The customary overly-complex plot is neatly tidied up in the last 5 minutes. Charlotte Rampling appears as a foxy young thing. Jack O'Halloran is somehow mesmerising as the almost wordless Moose Malloy. The IMDB rating doesn't do it justice: there's a lot to like here.

Roger Ebert got right into it at the time.

The Long Goodbye

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Third time around, another four years later. Altman, Elliott Gould, what a fun and perfect intro: a hungry cat climbing all over him at 3am in old Los Angeles. Writer Sterling Heydon (cloning Hemingway) looks like Nick Nolte with screwed up eyes, a sandpaper voice, histrionics. Quack Henry Gibson propped up the bar in Magnolia many years later. The plot gets talked out in the closing ten minutes or so, and again I'm pretty sure I have no idea what's really going on, but it doesn't matter. Arnie appears in one of his first roles.

IMDB points me to other Chandler adaptations of that era (1970s). Mitchum!

Roger Ebert: three stars at the time, four stars in 2006. Vincent Canby.

The Animatrix

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Apparently there's a fourth Matrix movie in the works, which prompted me to dig up this one which I hadn't seen despite it being from 2003. It's entirely, unimaginatively, meh; the stories are told to far more effect in far fewer words in the live-action movies.

Brazil

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Second (or more) time around with this Terry Gilliam classic from 1985. It's all so very 1984, replete with totalitarian tropes that become more the lived experience by the year: domestic terrorism and the state's responses, the suspension of habeas corpus and detaining people without notification, the use of government databases to chase romantic partners (eternal, I'm sure), extreme kleptocratic nepotism, endless ducts, faulty heating and so forth. All this goes to show that the real bureaucrats and crony capitalists lack imagination. Then again the working-class Buttles live in what is now a palace, not a human filing cabinet or a concrete box in the sky. Gilliam has an actual bug confusing official identities and we get similar mistakes and more in our robustly electronic world.

There are loads of famous names in the cast, none particularly well used. Some of it is quite fun, with the odd awesome bit of dreamy cinematography. Things stall when the plot needs developing.

Janet Maslin got into it at the time. Roger Ebert not so much.

The Flight of the Phoenix

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Second time around with this somewhat amiable stranded-in-the-desert Jimmy Stewart vehicle from 1965. It's not entirely gripping. I wonder what they were doing between the bouts of frenetic effort. It's not that boring either.

Bosley Crowther found it all too implausible. Of course it is, but come on. I grant him that shooting the camel and not eating it was lame.

The Man Who Never Was

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A Clifton Webb jag from Laura, in colour in 1956. A somewhat fussy World War II military procedural that tries to become a thriller in the third act with an IRA angle. The English (or the Brits, or whoever, but definitely the English) are looking to mislead the Germans about the location of their pending invasion of the Continent; anywhere but Sicily will do. Clearly the only thing that will work is is to inject a dead Scot onto a Spanish beach, loaded with papers. Wikipedia has all the details. Gloria Grahame can't hide her accent; I wasn't sure if she was supposed to be American or a local girl; the soporific pace gives you heaps of time to worry such details. Cyril Cusack is a familiar Irish everyman.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Should have been even more black-and-white, he says.

Laura

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Second time around with this Preminger / Gene Tierney 1944 black-and-white classic. I enjoyed it just as much, and like Roger Ebert couldn't remember whodunit; it somehow doesn't matter. He's also right that it makes little sense. Clifton Webb camps it up in fine style.

Once Upon a Time ... in Hollywood

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Opening day at The Ritz, 4.30pm, Cinema 1, downstairs 6 rows from front, 10 AUD. Supposedly a 35mm print but I can't say I noticed. Perhaps a third full. Upstairs was open too.

Tarantino's latest is nostalgia for America's glory days of the late 1960s, a sort of whitewashed greatest hits for MAGA types to aim for. Men were men, cars were Cadillacs with fins that got three miles to the gallon, women were dreamy, and you could light up anywhere. (The cigarette ad over the credits was deeply weird.) Murder was still random but violence was generally more personal than today's mass shootings. Di Caprio and Pitt buddy it up. Westerns, Spaghetti and American, are showered with various cackhanded honours. Robbie eventually gets upholstered and doesn't move like a pregnant lady. The Chekhovian devices are legion (a dog, tins of dog food, Robbie, ...) but none fail more dismally than an acid-laced cigarette, except perhaps for Pacino as a movie executive. It's amiable, ingratiating, introspective, self-absorbed, and has you wondering if Tarantino can go the (lengthy) distance without graphic violence; he almost makes it. At times the vibe is Altman: Short Cuts or perhaps Nashville, but without the masterful long takes.

I was bored throughout.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens. J. Hoberman. Widely reviewed elsewhere.

Philip Caputo: Hunter's Moon.

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Kindle. On the strength of Bruce Barcott's review in the New York Times. It goes as he says. A geography lesson for me: the small towns and highways of Michigan's Upper Peninsula. Written in rotating first and third person, but the voices all sound about the same. Elegiac. Lots of guns and danger but surprisingly little present-tense violence, at least if you consider nature to be red in tooth and claw. Remaining men together?

Griffin Theatre: City of Gold by Meyne Wyatt.

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$20 Monday rush ticket plus $4 for the pleasure of booking online just after midday. Packed. More than two hours with an interval. I got there after a late lunch, some hacking at Waverley Library and a birthday freebie coffee at the dear old Verona.

Briefly, NIDA-grad and proud Wongatha (?) man Meyne Wyatt relocates Erskineville Kings to his hometown of Kalgoorlie: he's off shooting a culturally-appropriating ad (change the date, lamb barbeques unite) when his father passes, bringing him back to the lowlevel antagonism of family with brother Mathew Cooper (who was in The Season) and dutiful sister Shari Sebbens; his mum never emerges from the house. There's some dreaming to evoke the backstory and promote the attractions of initiation, a wagtail to tell us bad news is on the way, much Blackfella kvetching leavened with much local inflected humour. The cataclysmic ending was weak.

Jason Blake. And many others.

...And Justice for All

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Third time around with this funny but shallow legal procedural farce. A Jack Warden jag from Everybody Wins. Pacino has a few good moments, as do each of the other cast members I guess. Christine Lahti has the thankless job of talking the plot. I recognised Jeffrey Tambor from The Death of Stalin, and perhaps Craig T. Nelson from that other Pacino legal vehicle, The Devil's Advocate.

Roger Ebert was unimpressed at the time; Vincent Canby even less so.

Cameron Murray and Paul Frijters: Game of Mates: How favours bleed the nation.

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I want either less corruption, or more chance to participate in it.
Ashleigh Brilliant

Kindle. I'm late to this party so I'll keep it brief. Co-written by one of the Club Troppo stalwarts and released back in 2017, this depressing book outlines how much of Australia's common wealth is being soaked up by what we might call network effects amongst the well connected. They observe that it's a perennial problem and that the gains were spread more widely in the days before Hawke and Keating. The examples are generally well chosen — property development, superannuation, universities, etc. — though I think the tax system could have used some scrutiny. The diagnoses seem about right. Their Rawlsian approach of comparing this country's status quo with world-best practice is valuable. Attempting to bust myths is futile.

I'd pick many nits if I was more timely. Their defences of klepto everyman James from attacks on his character are juxtaposed with stuffily moral language. I don't understand why foreign experts would be any more immune to threats to their career than any other public servant. They doxx quite a few users of the revolving doors, which struck me as a bit impolite. I'm skeptical about the experiments they perform and behavioural economics in general. Their prescriptions could be summarised as: put a price on everything. A better book on the mechanisms at work here is Al Roth's.

Very widely reviewed locally. Peter Martin has a very depressing graph that generalises what I was told a while back, viz that the way to make money in this country is to run a government-mandated monopoly. The more circumspect reviewers cast doubt on this and every other point in this book, which is to say, it's business as usual.

2019-08-29: Tamsin Shaw observes that, for mates, it's free markets until you've made your pile then government-mandated monopolies forever after. She does well until she blithely asserts that American (wannabe) oligarchs made their piles legally; might that not be a case of protectionism, and the old saw that behind every great fortune there is a great crime? Legal at the time, of course. Antitrust?

Everybody Wins

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#31 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies, and by far the worst so far. Written by Arthur Miller as a play and adapted for the screen. Nick Nolte leads as a credulous and sex-starved private dick (Stratton says TV journalist) who is readily suckered by the far more worldly Debra Winger when she asks him to spring a friend incarcerated for a bogus murder conviction. Will Patton does a special kind of menacing but ultimately vacuous crazy. I'm not sure there's a point, but if there is, it's better made in David Lynch's small-town efforts, with Blue Velvet already having set the pace and Twin Peaks not far into the future.

Stratton claims this was an original screenplay but Wikipedia concurs with IMDB.

Vincent Canby at the time.

Foreign Correspondent

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A Hitchcock jag. Not great. It's 1940-ish and wooden, credulous, flat reporter-lead Joel McCrea is sent over to Europe by a NYC newspaper to sort out those foreigners (future Americans?). Laraine Day does as well as she can as the girl to be gotten, alternating passivity with sassy repartee. The ending is as pure a pitch for war bonds as you'll find. Canonical Englishman George Sanders at least seems to be enjoying himself. The Latvians cop it in the neck, as do the Dutch at times.

Bosley Crowther got into it at the time.

Strangers on a Train

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Second or third time around for this Hitchcock classic. The black-and-white cinematography is perfect (and not just for 1951), as is the continual search for the horror in the familiar and omnipresent. Yes, the plot is farfetched and it's not entirely clear why things go as they do. It seems to have fallen out of the IMDB top-250 since I last saw it in 2012.

Roger Ebert in 2004. He tells me Farley Granger was also in Rope. Bosley Crowther was more skeptical at the time; I feel he'd be a lot more thankful if it was released now.

George Saunders: The Brief and Frightening Reign of Phil.

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Kindle. Brief and not very frightening as it reads like a fascist scarer of days long dead. Having one group of oppressed people being saved from their oppressors by another group oppressing the oppressors is lame. Conveniently the Führer-figure spontaneously combusts during the intervention. This is the first Saunders effort I've read, and I can see how he might appeal with some funny stuff in the small.

Eric Weinberger is dead right that this sounds like a work out of time.

Road to Perdition

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Third time around with this perplexingly poor movie, and I still don't remember a thing — except that American Jesus Tom Hanks goes out dumb. The cast is stellar (Paul Newman, Jude Law, Daniel Craig, Dylan Baker in yet another thankless role, Jennifer Jason Leigh, Ned Rifle Liam Aiken), cinematographer Conrad L. Hall got an Oscar for his beautiful compositions, but the whole is not much. It's winter 1931, somewhere out in Midwest Irish gangstaland where we're supposed to know prohibition is allowing the speakeasies to do huge business. Two — no three! — sons and the patriarch, and the over-patriarch and so forth try to convince us that the ultraviolent Hanks is doing the decent thing by murdering people so his own family can eat, and later shielding his son from needing to do similar. It's a busted premise. I don't think director Sam Mendes is entirely to blame for its lifelessness.

Roger Ebert. Stephen Holden.

Daniel Nieh: Beijing Payback.

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Kindle. Millennial Chinese gangsta: two sons (just like Madness is Better than Defeat!) separated by an ocean combine to sort out the dregs of their father's business arrangements after his assassination in San Dimas, California. In life he was a legit restaurant magnate, and in death something else. (No, his name is not Robert Paulson.) After some setup in collegetown USA the violence unfurls in Beijing with the denouement via a minor plot flounce back to where it started. The loose ends are left dangling, perhaps in the hope of a deal for a sequel.

This is probably the ethnic lit that Nam Le warned about. The whole thing is overly complicated if the reader ever stops to think, which is not helped by excess discussions of plausibility and hand wringing. It periodically disintegrates. Like David Halberstam, Nieh takes it as axiomatic that the USA is all things to all people, with a US visa being the ultimate bribe. The French journo is a cliche (Bernand Fall?). The femmes are feeble: Nieh cannot inflate sister Jules — sometimes describing her undergrad-level analytic putdown vitriol rather than, you know, just writing it — or sexkitten Wei (an East-meets-West sexpert just like the halfcaste in The Singapore Grip who dominates after taking the initiative, dating this work to now). The vibe is more Hong Kong than mainland, with a nod to the eternal Infernal Affairs and Joe Ide.

For all that I enjoyed it on its own terms. Lauren Wilkinson sold it to me with her review for the New York Times.

From Here to Eternity

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Black and White, 1953. An adaptation (bowdlerisation) of a James Jones novel (just like The Thin Red Line), cut to be a US Army promo. A Deborah Kerr jag; strange to see her so young. She does OK with the little she gets to work with. Join the army, get posted to Hawaii... Donna Reed is there waiting for you! IMDB suggests this is the one that Sinatra got his mates to make an offer for that could not be refused. Montgomery Clift does his best as an individual who is a lifer in a collective. Burt Lancaster has a limited range and is exposed here. The famous sexy beach scene was very brief. It concludes with the fallout of the attacks on Pearl Harbour and Oscars all round.

David Halberstam: The Making of a Quagmire.

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A memoir of his time reporting from Sài Gòn in the early 1960s. So much felt familiar; perhaps he reworked similar material into The Best and the Brightest. I came away thinking that he didn't manage to square the data he dug up, his own analysis and his contention that the USA had to fight this type of communist-containment war, i.e., support regimes and cultures that had little in common with the USA; he falls prey to exactly the same pathology he documents. The postwar European situation is used for contrast but not much is made of the interventions in Korea and Japan. While his Pulitzer-winning journalism was surely a first cut at history, this book had little effect on LBJ's decision to commit American bodies to the quagmire and takes us not very far now. The ongoing war in Afghanistan shows that nothing was learnt. Again the USA does not seem able to successfully prosecute a counterinsurgency, or define a face-saving victory and exit. Again the self-deception is ludicrous. Again the backing of a local strongman did not bear fruit.

That period (1962/63) was a good time to meet John Paul Vann on his way out the door, but apparently too late to get to know Lansdale.

Bernard Fall at the time (1965).

An Affair to Remember

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There must be something between us, even if it's only an ocean.
— Cary Grant to Deborah Kerr.

French playboy Cary Grant picks up bar singer Deborah Kerr on a boat from Europe to NYC in colour in 1957. I enjoyed her performance here about as much as in The Night of the Iguana with some snappy dialogue and reversals. The plot goes as you'd expect, which is to say it's annoyingly artificial at times and cloying at others. Another love-letter to mid-1950s American uppercrustiness: marry into it if you can. IMDB tells me it was a remake of Love Affair, also directed my Leo McCarey.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Aguirre, the Wrath of God

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A trip down down the river prompted by Ebert's selection of greatest movies. From the title we're obviously going to end up with a Kurtz, and the early lush cinematography, rich conceit and huge cast winding down the Andes is very promising. Unfortunately (the horror) it is too cut up to be immersive; Kinski always seems to be mugging for the camera, and the the "oh woe I am pierced by this feeble arrow" dialogue does not help. I know it's a Werner Herzog "art" movie, but he seems to have lacked sufficient conviction to either completely dispense with a plot or develop it or the characters adequately.

Ebert in 1977 and in 1999.

Jill Ciment: The Body in Question.

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Kindle. Curtis Sittenfeld's review sold it to me, and I mostly got what I expected. The first part canvasses a range of issues, not the least being the sexuality of American females deep into middle age, related issues of childlessness, powerlessness, new forms of brutality, care for the young/damaged/aged, and smoking. The focus is a fling or love affair, depending on who's telling, with a sordid court case serving as a backdrop. Like an eternalised Dermansky, Ciment has the ladies taking the initiative since always; there's some fun in her no-means-yes plays. The second half tries to cash the conceits of the first half, and in failing to satisfy perhaps exposes their slightness.

David Halberstam: The Reckoning.

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The other respect in which America was ill prepared for the new world economy was in terms of expectations. No country, including America, was likely ever to be as rich as America had been from 1945 to 1975, and other nations were following the Japanese into middle-class existence, which meant that life for most Americans has bound to become leaner. But in the middle of 1986 there seemed little awareness of this, let alone concern about it. Few were discussing how best to adjust the nation to an age of somewhat diminished expectations, or how to marshal its abundant resources for survival in a harsh, unforgiving new world, or how to spread the inevitable sacrifices equitably.
— Halberstam's closing paragraph.

Kindle. Before longform journalism we got (flabby, repetitious, under-signposted, invaluable) doorstops from the likes of David Halberstam. This is the third of his history-like writeups I've read (after the classic The Best and the Brightest and the minor Ho). It maps out the rise of industrial Japan as a direct function of Japanese culture and post-World War II US intervention, resulting in some shaky years of decline for the US automotive sector (colloquially "Detroit") up to 1986. Apparently he wanted to sound a warning and thought this angle provided a telling vehicle. Of course Robert S. McNamara provides a bridge between fascinations old and new.

The book cleaves into tales of America and Japan. I found his choice to focus on Nissan a bit weird; his afterword justifies it by the parallel with Ford, being the #2 company. (He chose Ford as GM was always well insulated and Chrysler perennially cactus.) For mine Honda and Toyota are both more interesting: Honda for being an unusually innovative Japanese company, and Toyota for its famous Total Quality Management, quality being a big concern here. As you'd expect it's the personalities on the American side that come through most vividly: the recently-passed sales wizard Lee Iacocca and man of duty and large appetite Henry Ford II in particular. I liked his portrayal of founder Henry Ford's conception of work as enjoyable production and not parasitism, though of course that attitude can't last in the times of automation and plenty, or perhaps the capitalism in general that Ford himself did so much to promote. The boom and bust of the unions and their co-option in both the USA and Japan surprised me less than Halberstam wanted it to.

I came away wondering if Japan was ever receptive to anything except technical know-how; Halberstam suggests they were not particularly interested or open to democracy or substantive cultural or societal reform (cf his software/hardware comments). This made me think that Mitsubishi, a zaibatsu that zombie-shuffled through the war, would have made for a more interesting topic: the intransigence of the old ways in the face of proven gaijin superiority and occupation, with some motivation to make this situation transient. That the Bank of Japan owns so much stock in 2019 makes perfect sense in such a controlled economy and society.

From a thirty-year perspective Halberstam's analysis looks accurate, except by curious timing Japan fell away soon after this book was published, and now the USA is again the world's largest producer of oil. (Halberstam himself passed before things really came unstuck in 2008; also Japan's "lost decade" has become two or three, depending on who's counting.) More broadly I felt he could have expended more pages on other points: the financialisation of everything, the rise of the service economy (which in an aside he speculates may be parasitic on the realer forms of industry), the apparent failure of the Japanese computer industry outside gaming, the geopolitics of the oil and green revolutions, and an even broader sketch of the macro forces of the day.

As far as I understand it, nothing has changed for Detroit: Government protection is what kept them alive then, what's keeping them alive now, and we all know what happened during the GFC. More zombies than ever are shuffling across the US corporate landscape: as it goes in Japan, so will it be for the rest?

Reviews are legion. John Kenneth Galbraith. Goodreads. An interview of sorts at the time on C-SPAN.

Apocalypse Now (Final Cut)

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The Ritz, $10, 4pm, Cinema 1, five rows from the front downstairs (upstairs also in operation), 4K digital, maybe half full. Coffee at Shorty's before, lunch at Coogee before that in a strong onshore wind, a little cool. They were hammering the golden pop/rock classics of my youth before the shorts. Once Upon A Time ... in Hollywood looks a bit more literally Tate-murdery than I'd hoped.

The intro had Coppola billing this as a sort of ultimate revision, something between the original theatrical cut and the redux of 2001: this amounted to keeping the French plantation, ditching the supply depot and expanding some interstitial scenes. Somehow it was less magical this time around, leaving me detached and trainspotting the continuity. It was followed by Coppola being interviewed by Steven Soderbergh at Tribeca earlier this year. They gestured to perhaps more interesting Coppola interviews: with Martin Sheen in 2010 and the press conference at Cannes 1979. And of course Hearts of Darkness. This meant I didn't get out until well after 8pm.

Ebert had at least three goes: at the time (an experience, not a philosophy), 1999, the redux of 2001. A. O. Scott on the redux. Still #50 in the IMDB top-250.

Apollo 11

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Dendy Newtown, 4:15pm (only session of the day), $1 birthday ticket, Cinema 6, front row modulo the wheelchair space bracketed by couches (unused), perhaps 10-15 people. Ate my lunch in dogshit park out back of the church, and had a coffee in the cafe next door beforehand. I got there in time for Springsteen's Hungry Heart. I don't think they played any shorts, just ads.

Glenn Kenny suggests this is an assembly of previously unscreened (on film anyway) footage of the moonshot. It is excellent. The composition, editing, pacing, etc. is also spot on. I was slightly annoyed by the soundtrack: the drama speaks for itself. I would also have liked to (always) know who was piloting. I wonder what happened to all that antiquated tech. I'll refrain from politicking.

James Gleick.

The Chaser

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A graphic Korean crime/police procedural directed by Na Hong-jin and not the eternal Australian undergrad-humorists. A serial-killer jag from Memories of Murder, which is in every way superior. The plot of this one doesn't make a ton of sense, and all the solid acting and decent cinematography didn't save it. Kim Yoon-suk (Yoon-Seok?) leads as a detective-turned pimp and spends an excess of time running the streets of Seoul. It's a bit Se7en mashed up with more pointless slasher/horror tropes.

Mike Hale at the New York Times.

Memories of Murder

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More IMDB top-250 completism (#190), and Bong Joon-ho too. This is a masterful mashup of genres that covers a sensitive period in South Korean history: it's 1986, democratic elections are on the way (replacing a police state), the country has its first serial killer and the local cops are way out of their depth. The cinematography is generally excellent and the odd shot is sublime, which is weird given the grim skies. Song Kang-ho leads, again.

Manohla Dargis. Made a huge splash at the time.

The Bandit

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IMDB top-250 completism (#208). Turkish. A mountain bandit gets released from gaol after 35 years and heads to the big smoke. Cliches ensue. Not very good. Presumably highly pumped by the partisans.

North by Northwest

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Alfred Hitcock's loveletter to mid-century America: trains, planes, automobiles, NYC, Chicago, Mount Rushmore, bottomless pockets stuffed with Madison Avenue greenbacks, a breezy, implausible and slight cold war plot. Cary Grant leads, James Mason follows and Eva Marie Saint tags along. Second time around. Fun. Still #78 in the IMDB top-250.

Sunset Boulevard

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In two sittings. Second time around. This is classical Hollywood: a strong (albeit self-regarding) story told with pitch-perfect acting in B&W in 1950. This was Billy Wilder's masterpiece. Gloria Swanson is so iconically arch. Still #57 on the IMDB top-250.

Roger Ebert.

Glengarry Glen Ross

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Second time around with this Mamet piece. I laughed throughout. The cadence strikes me as so very Raymond Carver now. This may be the only Jack Lemmon performance I genuinely enjoyed. Everyone dumps on Kevin Spacey.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby. Peter Travers.

Tim Winton: Dirt Music.

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Kindle. I read this a long time ago and remember the outlines of the story: wayward, wilful woman falls out of love/arrangement with an affluent fishing scion and falls in with a rough, soulful yet manly artist. Winton set himself a tough challenge in constructing not only the female lead but also female friendship. It's similar to Morton's recent memoir in its description of harsh landscapes, communities, men and dynasties. I felt it was masterfully constructed up to around halfway, up to when Winton needs to get the third leg of his love triangle north of Broome: Jim is too closed a book for us to understand why or how he might be redeemed by finding Fox. It's cinematic, won the Miles Franklin in 2002, and there's a movie in the works (but there pretty much always is).

Reviews are legion.

Scent of a Woman

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I might have seen this one before. A Pacino jag, and also James Rebhorn (as a milksop headmaster). Nothing more than Oscar bait for Pacino, who is better elsewhere. Chris O'Donnell is not great as his seeing-eye scholarship student. Tailor Anh Duong is striking in her almost non-speaking role. A very young Philip Seymour Hoffman. Overall it's mawkish American hokum. Loosely based on a book and something of a remake.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert.

Rick Morton: One Hundred Years of Dirt.

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Kindle. Got the pointer from the Guardian staff book list for 2018. Briefly this is a memoir by a still-young bloke from far western Queensland who became a journo in the big smoke (in fact all of the east-coast big smokes). He gives some insight into why Queenslanders vote in what looks like beggar-thy-neighbour fashion, incidentally fueling the argument for epistocracy. (I'm not in favour of an epistocracy.) There is a lot of poverty (of means, experience, hope, goodwill and much else), addiction, domestic violence, feudal families, so forth. It reminded me strongly of Nicholas Cowdery's Getting Justice Wrong in saying many powerfully obvious things — often backed by recent, timely and relevant data and economic narratives — that will somehow go unheard by those with power.

Widely reviewed.

Carlito's Way

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Second time around. De Palma and Pacino decided to make a Godfather Part III / Scarface / ... mashup in 1993. It's a world-weary gangsta sort of thing set in generic mid-1970s NYC. Sean Penn has his moments as a lawyer in Jewfro. Viggo Mortensen is a depleted good-time host. The plot unfolds entirely predictably. There's some fancy cinematograpy but everyone was better elsewhere. It's an exercise in style.

Roger Ebert at the time, and Janet Maslin.

Ned Beauman: Glow.

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Kindle. I couldn't make it past the first page of The Teleportation Incident, and this one is shorter.

The Beauman ingredients:

  • Some sort of McGuffin to hunt
  • At least one character with a kooky malady, probably genetic and hence essential
  • Corporate surveillance, marketing, public relations
  • Inventive, descriptive, evocative similes
  • A massive vocabulary with shallow insights, like a TED talk
  • Deus ex, as much as need be and keep going
  • An exotic location
  • A casual relationship with violence

— and yeah, it's getting a bit tedious by now.

In this instance we have a very willing Burmese girl and a similarly willing London boy enjoying the vestiges of the druggy dance scene that produced drug memoirs that Beauman himself observes he is palely imitating. The plot is incomprehensible and not worth recounting; the author concurs by babbling at every fracture. Glow is the drug equivalent of civet coffee, and I'm so sorry to spoil the whole book for you. Japanese girls are apparently magnificent objects; it's the casual racism of low expectations easily met, like an ABC show. Information comes from anywhere and everywhere. It's a string of scenes. There's some naff commentary on commentary (at Lotophage, the amateur neuroexperientialist's forum) — of course people don't talk about enjoying activity x as typically the pleasures of x speak for themselves. Analysis is a means of reliving it, or bragging, or some other thing. Come on editors, run a ruler over this stuff.

Edward Docx at the time.

After Hours

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Second time around for this mid-1980s Scorsese time capsule. I bracket it with Bonfire of the Vanities but somehow IMDB doesn't; someone there suggests Desperately Seeking Susan. Once again NYC consists of about five people and a pitchfork-bearing posse. "Word processsor" must have been the first autocausality of the IT revolution. Meh.

Vincent Canby felt a bit ripped off back in the day. Roger Ebert at the time, and in 2009, for a total of eight stars.

Ned Beauman: Boxer, Beetle.

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Kindle. I figured I'd see if Beauman's earliest work (from 2010) was an improvement on his most recent. It is mercifully short. Once again we're on a McGuffin hunt, skulking in an England of Nazi sympathisers and memorabilia hunters and unsympathetic Jews. Poland serves as a place of ethnic hatred and entomological discovery: after exposure to the right kind of thinking, a slightless species with swastikas on their extended wings morph into hardy flesh eaters, or a crass metaphor for those who took eugenics seriously. Much of the (British) Fascist exposition is bald unchallenged assertion (sounding a lot like what was trotted out for BREXIT), presumably because Beauman cannot empathise with, imagine or even look into the faces of these people. Conversely he seems at ease with American quantities of violence. There's little insight here, and the cut-up narrative suggests the author thought the story too weak to chug along by itself. Once again I felt he doesn't deliver on the promises made early in the book, or live up to his gift.

Scarlett Thomas seems to have forgotten about the people at the Fascist conference dinnertable. Goodreads suggests his next two are superior.

Short Cuts

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Third time around with this Altman early-1990s time capsule. Some of it is still fun. Other bits have gone rancid.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby.

Marcy Dermansky: Very Nice.

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Kindle. I enjoyed the previous two things I read from Dermansky — The Red Car and Bad Marie — but with this the well has run dry. I think she's trying to capture a moment in time (the northern summer of about 8 months after the pivotal 2016 US election IIRC) by portraying a rich, disintegrating Jewish family with a fabulous house in Connecticut, a pair of fabulously gorgeous passably-white-but-actually-black twin sisters, a fabulously irresistible but negligible Pakistani author and perhaps most sympathetically his fabulous apricot-coloured standard poodle. (Hang on, I thought Muslims weren't big on dogs...) We're sometimes taken to Brooklyn but mostly remain in the house, unless we're visiting the crazy Republican family across the way.

The focus is on contemporary sexual politics. Ladies, young or old but all willful and desirous, need to make the first move these days. Blokes are passive, excessively risk-averse unless they're holdover alpha males of the Gordon Gecko variety. Lesbianism is apparently the safer bet on the NYC dating scene, especially if you want to make it big in featureless finance. A Chekhovian device is introduced very late and used to unsatisfactorily terminate a very slight plot.

We're told all this in rotating first-person. Are the voices distinct? Sometimes! Khloe (the not-Kardashian) provides no deep ruminations on finance and what that really means; she's just in it for the money and not the bros. Her twin sister Kristi is a similarly underdrawn literatti. The 54 yo mother deals with bereavement by poaching the dog. The father is Wall St. Daughter Rachel, the fulcrum, is a confused 19 yo who has far more than most. Everyone is an abyss of want. A repetitive, iteratively-deepened narrative? Mostly! — maybe this is how Philip Roth rolled.

I felt that to get even this much out of this book required more of me than it had to offer.

New Theatre: Collaborators by John Hodge.

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$20 on their cheap Thursday, two rows from the front. It was perhaps half to two-thirds full. I had a mediocre dinner at a bright vats-out-the-front Indian nearby on King St. after a pleasant but unsensational coffee at Ferah's Turkish. Gould's has reopened down that way, and it is so strange to be browsing books on shelves; the wall of obsolete Australian political books is heartbreaking. All this after an afternoon at Sydney Uni where all (OK, most of) the libraries are now "learning labs".

I went along despite Jason Blake's review, and as I suspected, he got it about right. The actor playing Stalin took his cues from Christoph Waltz's effort in Inglourious Basterds. It's an attempt to draw humour from the USSR stone, cf The Death of Stalin; there's no message in the script, and a willing cast is not going to make up for that. Dave Kirkham as landed gentry reminded me of A Gentleman in Moscow. I got a bit bored, which is surprising — John Hodge was the scriptwriter for Trainspotting.

Ned Beauman: Madness is Better than Defeat.

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Kindle. Entirely too much is trying to go on here. It's impossible to summarise and also probably impossible to successfully execute. A classic McGuffin hunt by Americans in the Central American jungle running from the 1930s to the late 1950s through NYC, Hollywood and some Mayan ruins. The title comes from an unmade Orson Welles film (Hearts in Darkness) which doubles as the movie in this book. It is a sprawling mess. There are endless segues. It is difficult to follow. Most annoying is the periodic retconning, or maybe it's the actively misleading assertions ("met the gods"), or perhaps the iteratively-deepened narrative. There's some Hunter S. Thompson, some Will Self quantity theory, some magic realism, and many voices that sound about the same. Beauman wears his learning heavily.

Is this a story of when America was great? The greatest generation tropes made me wonder if Beauman was playing a commercial angle. Our principle narrator morphs from a journalist into an OSS/CIA Quiet American without even a montage, and as we all know, even Rocky had a montage. Beauman wants to be taken as seriously as Ken Kesey with his account of a brutal, lobotomising Texan mental health clinic and slight readings of Leibniz's patently inadequate monadology. There are shades of the old Australian utopias (hint: don't try this in Australia) but none are as utopian. There's a nod to Lenin's sealed train. I heard the faintest of echoes of a far more impressively erudite effort from a long time ago.

I wondered if Beauman was commenting on surveillance capitalism by proposing a drug that opens the doors to the panopticon; the concept is used too erratically to be sure. Sometimes it put me in mind of a quote from Becker's The Denial of Death, that we've been suffering from the overproduction of truth for quite a while now, and at others that this must be the essence of Atlassian's appeal to the command-and-control classes. Similarly the imperial ambitions of the camp's company scrip made me think of Facebook's recent corporatist movies with their borderless Libra currency. How long until they try to make their staff subsist entirely on bits made out of people?

Widely reviewed. Helene Stapinski sold it to me. Cal Revely-Calder. Something of a self-review by Beauman. Joe Blessing asks why.

Mother

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Bong Joon-ho completism. This one is from 2009 or so. Over several sittings as it didn't really grip me. Something of of Twin Peaks small-town epic: a popular (?) girl gets murdered, a mentally-deficient bloke gets hooked for it and his everloving mother does the necessary to get things sorted out. I wasn't engaged enough to figure out how his playmate rolls: is he a cop? a stringer? the murderer? Everything always ends up in the bottom of the rice barrel. Set (? - at least shot) in Busan, in the deep south of Korea. Lush cinematography, sometimes bit dark. The lead actress (Kim Hye-ja) is magnetic.

Roger Ebert uses it as a vehicle to rail against the mouse. Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Another very late summery day — warm (20C and more) in the sun, a light cool wind, cool in the shade. Ate lunch (a felafel roll from Erciyes and a pleasant chat with the owner), read some book on the northern headland of Coogee. There was some large-ish surf rolling in. I went for a paddle at the southern end, and there were more people in than I would have expected. Quite a few people walking around.

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof

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I hate apologies. Especially for the truth.
Whatever you did, don't apologize.
Just don't do it again.
— Big Daddy.

I passed on the recent Sydney Theatre Company production and am regretting it now I've seen this classic Richard Brooks take on Tennessee Williams's archetypal Southern Gothic. It's been on the pile for ages, and seeing Paul Newman again reminded me to dig it up. So many things I've seen now seem like footnotes. There are some very funny lines, and I enjoyed a Liz Taylor performance for maybe the first time ever: so bitchy! — and of course she's the cat. Newman is on the slow burn. Burl Ives is a bit too self-aware for so much to be revealed to him so late in the day.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Took a mental health day down in the Royal National Park. The ride down was slow but pleasant; I guess the traffic was fairly light. The day was as pleasant as the BOM forecast: 20 plus degrees and a light not-too-cold wind. Had a coffee at the tourist centre at Audley on the way to Wattamolla. While I was there a Kookaburra stole a lady’s bacon right off her plate. The Cockatoos were very friendly too. Quite a few swamp hens.

After that I headed to Wattamolla to find that they're finally making good on their promise to refurbish the pathway down to the beach, and the sweet sounds of wealth creation followed me on the long walk from the bottom car park to the repaired stairs at the south-eastern corner of the sand, near the outflow from the lagoon. They've removed the pontoon. A waterfall was going strong. Cool in but not too bad. Warm to hot in the sun. A few people about. Bluebottles on the high tide line. Epically flat.

Afterwards I rode down to Stanwell Park/Coal Cliff and walked across the Sea Cliff Bridge. I'm still wondering how much of the old road still exists. The ride back to Randwick on the motorway took ages. Bought some groceries at East Village on the way past.

John Brunner: The Whole Man.

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Kindle. More Brunner due to a lack of imagination or bravery on my part. Telepathy, mentalism of a pedestrian kind, written in a world that already had Foundation and Stephen Hawking. The hard-scrabble upbringing (in an unreconstituted Chicago?) in an otherwise utopian world is married to some inevitable psychoanalytic BS. Maybe he hadn't yet found himself a reliable dealer. It passed the time, I guess.

The Sting

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Second time around with this oldie but a goodie. Paul Newman and Robert Redford buddy up in a justified scamming revenge movie that is still #102 in the IMDB top-250. It's set in 1930s Chicago and just maybe some of the locations are still recognisable.

Roger Ebert at the time, replete with spoilers. Vincent Canby also.

Waterloo

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Rod Steiger completism, with the bonus of a young Christopher Plummer and an indulged Orson Welles as a French king. I think this was an attempt to say something about Napoleon (Steiger, still playing A Fistful of Dynamite) and Wellington (Plummer, born to it) at the Battle of Waterloo. It may have done so if they hadn't spent so much on sets and extras for the vast battleground scenes that nothing was left for dramaturgy, scripting, etc. Director Sergei Bondarchuk initially equivocated between the David Lean or Sergio Leone modes of epic before firmly plumping for frenetic vacuity: the odd moment of beautiful cinematography is killed by our complete befuddlement at the state of the battle. IMDB provides a partial list of perplexities.

Roger Greenspun and Roger Ebert at the time.

John Brunner: The Traveller in Black.

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Goodreads suggested this collection of Brunner shorts wasn't totally dire, and perhaps it isn't if you like moralising fantasy. Reading further down that page I see that this is a work firmly in genre.

Kiss Me Deadly

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A pointer from a recent Dendy newsletter trying to flog one of their DOA horses (Under the Silver Lake). This was bracketed with other famous L.A. noirs like Chinatown but is for mine a pulpy clunker with excess dodgy acting and editing. Made in a time when actresses could proclaim to be of the incomplete sex and everyone was satisfied with a relentless winner like private dick Mike Hammer. I didn't enjoy any of the performances: Ralph Meeker was a cardboard lead.

John Brunner: The Squares of the City.

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Kindle. Looking for something light and breezy, and because it got mentioned alongside Brunner's fat books, though goodreads suggests none of his stuff is rated in absolute terms.

Brunner takes us to the fictional Spanish-speaking country of Aguazul in Latin America in 1965: perhaps an island, perhaps Central, I imagined South. The perfectly modern 20th century city we arrive in was built in the time-honoured fashion: by underfunding the rest of the country. As the slums encroach the powers that be hire our narrator, a(n Australian!) foreign traffic expert, to give them the right answer. In many ways it's a Graham Greene novel: the country is Catholic, the landholders rich, citizenship has been extended to the foreign help, the peasantry excessive and restive, the newspapers partisan. There's a beautiful woman or two, an uprising and a fascination with chess. It's a sort of psychohistory of a totalitarian technocratic government, but more a demented extended metaphor. By midway it was too hard to track so many bit players, making for a choppy read.

Later reflection made me wonder if Brunner was giving the nod to famed early cyberneticist Stafford Beer, but no, Beer made it to Chile only in the early 1970s. Similarly Georges Perec's Life: A User's Manual, also a structural riff on chess, came thirteen years later. I conclude that once again Brunner was ahead of the curve.

It's widely reviewed out there on the free web.

Parasite (Gisaengchung)

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The Ritz, preview screening, 7pm, $10, Cinema 5, four rows from the front. Maybe half full but I didn't really pay much mind; I think there may have even been some actual Koreans up the back somewhere. Went to dear old Chao Praya for dinner beforehand: a chilli basil fried rice which was somewhat tasty.

The draw was director Joon-ho Bong (Snowpiercer, The Host, not so much Okja), this getting the Palme d'Or this year, and you know, everything else out right now being total garbage. Briefly this is Gangnam Style at feature length: a semi-basement dwelling family colonises an effluent abode in highly amusing style. It gets a bit graphic towards the end, and also a bit 25th Hour with a dash of Oldboy, though no octopuses are mentioned in the credits. There's a very sexy clothes-on sex scene. The very comedic dad seemed familiar, which is to say that Song Kang-ho must have made an impression on me in Snowpiercer. Shot on digital and so very Fincher.

Much later (2019-10-10), Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens. And even later (2019-10-30) A. O. Scott.

Toy Story 4

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The Ritz preview, 6:30pm, Cinema 1 upstairs, $10. Maybe two-thirds full, some kids and many kidults. I hadn't been to the cinema for ages — the pickings aren't even slim! — and it being a cold sunny day (though warm at midday) I felt like getting out of the house.

I set my expectations mid to low on the basis of Disney having to make superprofits on all these assets they bought at bubble prices and wasn't disappointed. The animation is amazing. The story is a bit meh: cynically it's about how American kids bond with stuff at early ages, and learn to churn through it, keeping that economy ticking over. There's the necessary strong female lead in the form of Bo Peep, some adolescent, awkward coupling and a sunset. Keanu voices the Canadian daredevil. We get an extended road trip and some fine observational humour: Buzz Lightyear's inner voices and a lemming-like desire to return to the garbage bin amongst others.

Dana Stevens. Manohla Dargis. Sandra Hall. All avoid offending the mouse, the tastemakers, the nostalgists.

J. G. Farrell: The Singapore Grip.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I was in the mood for some historical fiction, which I sort-of got, albeit set in the circa 1940s and not the genesis story I was hoping for. This is Singapore as a mongrel English colony whose exploiters are being challenged by the Japanese war machine, spreading southwards from Shanghai; Raffles is just a place here.

Briefly Farrell wears his researches very heavily. He tries to exhibit meaningful misunderstandings amongst a diverse cast of characters, none of whom are drawn deeply despite the tendentious scenarios. The anchor is Walter, a crassly constructed capitalist, imperialist boar complete with bristles down his spine and a trophy wife. There's a love triangle centred on the hapless scion nephew of his deceased business mentor/partner which involves ridiculous nudity and wilful aggression from Walter's soulless daughter and a Eurasian she is somehow acquainted with. Guess who comes out on top. The Quiet American Ehrendorf is annoyingly characterless and ineffectual. The bit I enjoyed most was a sketch of the pre-war Great World Amusement Park. Looks like it became a shopping centre, surprise.

Apart from the characters, the most annoying part is the climax where our small band of stereotypes somehow traverse Singapore and reunite as it falls to the Japanese army. It's like the city contains just five people and a few million something elses who just get in the way, but only so much. It's cinematic, tediously repetitious and feels like the author ran out of gas around halfway.

The writing is unforgivingly prolix, mostly good but nothing too exciting; even the the bombing of Singapore is mundane. There's a touch of Ishiguro's The Remains of the Day though the author can't bring himself to endorse pretty much any part of the European presence in South East Asia. Perhaps he was groping for the panorama of Pasternak's classic Doctor Zhivago. And of course your time is far better spent with David Malouf's The Great World, who perhaps misleads by suppressing the unkind descriptions Farrell applies to the Australian forces present at the time.

Reviews make it sound like this is the weakest of Farrell's "Empire" novels, which I now won't be seeking out. Goodreads has a range of views. Paul Fussell at the time.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Had lunch on the northern headland of Coogee; warm to hot around 12-1 when the sun was out. Afterwards went for a brief lazy paddle at the northern end of the beach. Almost no one there. Just a few swimmers. Dried out on the headland after, read some book, had a snooze in between all that. This fantastic run of weather is forecast to come to an end tomorrow with some light rain, so that might be it for the season.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch on the rocks at the Clovelly carpark. Rode down. Perfect day: light cool wind, otherwise warm in the sun. Snorkel off the scuba ramp: great visibility but didn't see much, just a big groper (still green), some small schools of ludderick, miscellaneous small fry, a senator wrasse. There were a couple of other snorkellers and two blokes suited up looking like they were going spearfishing. Dried off a bit by reading some book on the southern Clovelly headland. Bought groceries at Randwick afterwards.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Wandered down to the northern headland at Coogee. Ate the leftovers of last night's biryani; tastier now than then. After reading some more book I had a lazy paddle at a pancake-flat Coogee, this after a week or so of large swell and classic shore breaks. Quite a few people out on this Queen's Birthday long weekend: a beaut day, warm to hot when the sun was out, not too cool in the shade. Some heavy cumulus was rolling through, shading to light nimbus later in the afternoon. I was amazed I didn't freeze on the way back.

Trent Dalton: Boy Swallows Universe.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. Cinematic, mongrelised magic realism. Another junk novel. Funny. Very deus ex. We're in the western and later northern suburbs of Brisbane: Darra next door to Oxley, Moorooka, thereabouts. Things start in the early 1980s for two pre-adolescent brothers and proceed for about a decade, the ambient level of corruption remaining constant. There are Viets and Poles: both deal heroin but only the Viets have good food. The endless stories leave us yet wondering why Queenslanders vote the way they do.

Dalton tries valiantly in that Australian/Ned Kelly way to distinguish crims with hearts of gold from truly evil bastards, having it both ways with the heroin dealers and bikies but not the vivisectors who are literally beyond the pale. The obvious referents are:

I'll stop here. It's done well enough that you won't care.

Apparently Joel Edgerton is going to make a TV movie of it.

Amelia Lester's flat review didn't sell it to me back in May, but Helen Davidson's brief notice did. John Collee found something profound here. Local reviews are legion, as are pointers to even more source material.

Dark Phoenix

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Seat C-6 in cinema 2 of Dendy Newtown, 3:45pm session after laksa for lunch, $5, on a cold and rainy day. This is the first time I've used my Dendy Club membership, which IIRC cost me $5. I was there for a Fassbender fix. Totally boring.

Manohla Dargis.

National Theatre Live: All My Sons

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6:30pm, Palace Cinemas Central, cinemas 1 and 2. A freebie from Griffin Theatre to a promo night run by an unknown movie distributor. Maybe two-thirds full. I ended up in the front row (it's a tiny space) after spending the afternoon in one of the newer UTS buildings. The introductory making-of short was far too loud. We got the same twenty minute interval as those who saw it live, making it run until 9.20pm.

Everything you need to know about the play and more can be found at Wikipedia. Apparently this second effort by Arthur Miller erased the failure of the first. I found it to be a clunker: it's so clearly pre-Beckett and barely a dry run for Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?. The plot unwinds linearly — there are no Gone Girl moves here — and the Chekhovian device alluded to early on goes off late enough you're left wondering why they bothered; surely escaping comeuppance was not new to anyone in 1947.

This production ran at the Old Vic in London at some point. Surviving son (Colin Morgan, solid) invites his childhood neighbour (Jenna Coleman with wonky accents), the objectified sweatheart of his World War II-deceased brother, home from NYC to propose to her. Growly father (Bill Pullman) is the heartland/Midwestern self-made man who just maybe played the manufacturing game a little dirty, or didn't quite stick by his worker, her father. Sally Field is the cunningly delusional mother. The revelatory style is a bit of a grind. Field's performance annoyed me: she was so obviously waiting for the other actors to get their stuff said. The rest of the cast did well with what they had.

Afterwards I made haste to Spice Alley where the Shanghai dumpling house sold me some expensive but tasty (frozen) dumplings.

Odd Man Out

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A Carol Reed jag from The Third Man. B&W, 1947, a Belfast in ruins. A very young and presumably impressionable James Mason plays an Irish partisan who spends a rough night meandering the streets, junkyards, saloons, etc. after a spot of bother involving firearms. It's sorta like Naked without the wise cracking. He's abandoned by his fellows, Christ-like, except for a Mary Magdalene figure who finds him just in time to (spoiler) organise suicide by bobby. William Hartnell plays a barkeep. There's a touch of Henry Fool about the artist Lukey (Robert Newton).

Bosley Crowther got into it at the time.

The Lavender Hill Mob

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Another of the Ealing comedies. B&W, 1951. Alec Guinness leads as a deceptively unambitious bank clerk who regularly shepherds gold bullion from the foundry to the vault. He chances to meet a tourist souvenir manufacturer in the form of Stanley Holloway and a plot is hatched. Very funny at times, but also very restricted by genre: English farces demand a taste of the lash. It sags a little in the third quarter as the makers scrabble around for something to justify their trip to Paris. There are no fleshed-out female characters apart from the oldies running the "private hotel" and a schoolgirl.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Across the Bridge

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With great expectations of Rod Steiger, who doesn't disappoint. If I got this right, this is a dumbed-down Touch of Evil made in B&W in 1957 where a crooked German financier is killed by Englishmen on the US/Mexico border. The ending is lame, perhaps because the bridge is lame. Graham Greene wrote the story, which is diffuse and ambles to nowhere.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

Robert Harris: Fatherland.

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Kindle. Some days all you want to read is an airport novel and can't remember why you picked this one. (Scavenging the various memory holes shows that David S suggested Harris's The Ghost, but the movie version of that put me off.) I have some vague memories of learning something from the Frederick Forsyth books I read back when I was a kid, which is unfortunately not the case here.

Briefly: Circa 1992 Harris served up this alternate history of circa 1942 to 1964 in which the Nazis, having won World War II, establish a co-prosperity sphere bearing a strong resemblance to the actual EU. This rich conceit is squandered with the central McGuffin (spoiler) being that the Holocaust still happened but was successfully turned into #fakenews. I had hoped for tales of something supernatural dug from the cold dead ground under the streets of dreary Zurich instead of this replaying of old PK Dick moves. Perhaps Harris was reflecting on the denialism of the day, which has since gone toxically viral.

There is much Speer architecture. There are loads of SS officers. The lead is investigating a murder, later murders, and of course gets into bed with a freedom-loving American journalist/girl. Even-handedness is attempted by yammering on about Joseph P. Kennedy's antisemitism. The smoking is similarly endless. The "German look" and sundry totalitarian imaginings are drawn straight from 1984. The writing is workman-like, not too patronising, and does what it needs to do.

Rutger Hauer starred in the 1994 movie. Apparently the adaptation was loose.

Loads of opinions at Goodreads. It seems Harris has form for cloning earlier plotlines: the summary of Archangel reads just like The Boys from Brazil with Stalin subbed for Hitler.

Nam Le: On David Malouf (Writers on Writers series).

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Kindle. From Black Books Inc for 10 AUD.

Yeah, Australian identity politics. It's unenlightening stuff: somehow Australia has gotten less comfortable with being a nation of migrants even while the USA has made hyphenated nationalities almost mandatory. Le speaks less about Malouf's life's work than his own contradictory feelings about it all. Unfortunately this spills over into overly strong and unsound factual assertions in a vocabulary unleashed.

This being the first substantial thing from Nam Le in more than a decade, excerpts are legion: at Granta, The Monthly, The Paris Review, etc. etc. Hats off to his agent. Reviews are thinner on the ground so far. James Ley was unimpressed.

The Third Man

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Second time around for this B&W classic. Graham Greene wrote the novel and the adapation, Carol Reed directed. Joseph Cotton is a man-about-the-world Southerner who comes to post war Vienna at the behest of a bloke who he finds recently passed. There are also a Czech girl played by an Italian, two other blokes and the cops. So much effort is put into building up the mystery that nothing happens until Orson Welles arrives, and while the cat had the right idea I was left out in the cold. Many arty camera angles, some decent cinematography. Still #134 in the IMDB top-250.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert in 1996.

MASH

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Second time around for this somewhat tired piece of black-humoured Altman. We're off to a sanitised 1950s Korea where all the modcons of home, including willing women, are provided and the front is at least three miles distant. Robert Duvall plays an uptight god botherer, Sally "Hot Lips" Kellerman his inevitable bed partner. She got into it later, and he got a better role about a decade later in another war. Donald Sutherland and Elliott Gould are playboy doctors who effectively take over the outfit; you know, doctors are gods and all that. It's toothless despite all the blood. I enjoyed the improv and the odd zinger. The cinematography is washed out. The final football match piles on the cliches.

Roger Ebert at the time.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch at UNSW, just to use their wifi. Walked down to Coogee for a paddle in the early afternoon. Absolutely flat. Loads of people, like a quiet January weekday. Seemed clean despite BeachWatch's warnings. Dried out on the headland after.

Jack London: The Call of the Wild.

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Kindle. A jag from The Night Of. Amazingly in the public domain. It's a brisk, well-written and archaic story about working dogs and man's barbarity in the Pacific Far Northwest (Canada's Yukon, maybe Alaska) during a gold-rush. The form is Biblical. I got the chills reading about the climate. Apparently it's been made into many movies. I imagine Thoreau reads similarly.

McCabe & Mrs Miller

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Third time around. I'm still fascinated by Beatty's performance: the rambling to himself as mortality encroaches, his ignorance of the woman he's infatuated by, his general amiability when not doing business. Julie Christie is similarly fine but more enjoyable elsewhere. Leonard Cohen's soundtrack signalled his arrival, I guess. They don't make movies like this anymore.

Roger Ebert at the time and in 1999. He was wrong about the bathhouse — that was built at Mrs Miller's insistence — but dead right that this movie is near perfect. Vincent Canby was less impressed.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Rode up to Centennial Park for lunch, Bondi Junction for an iPhone case and then the carpark at Clovelly for a paddle off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Unlike last time it was quite calm with only small waves, seemingly clear and probably good snorkeling conditions. Warm in and out, even out of the sun, but not as hot as I expected. No wind. A few people walking around, a few in.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Wandered down to Coogee at 1pm on an almost-hot day. The smoke haze had cleared up enough that I didn't notice it. Ate my lunch on the headland then went for a lazy paddle at the beach, where quite a few were enjoying the very late summer conditions. Read some book while drying out.

Never Let Me Go

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Over two nights. More Carey Mulligan completism. She's full of woe here. A bonus was Sally Hawkins as a concerned teacher. Keira Knightley is annoying but doesn't have enough screen time to wreck it; and come on, she's too thin to provide quality spare parts. Andrew Garfield plays Tommy as even more of a lettuce than he presents in the the book. The child actors are great. Grossly summarised by Ex Machina/Annihilation auteur Alex Garland, who does not even attempt to preserve the subtleties Ishiguro brought to his perspective from a girl's diary. The ending tries feebly to universalise. Director Mark Romanek has done shirtloads of music videos, notably the famous one for Nine Inch Nails's Closer.

Roger Ebert got into it. Manohla Dargis not so much.

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Beaut day and looking to get hotter (!) later in the week. Rode down to Coogee to eat my lunch on the grass west of the beach. Not many people about. Had a lazy paddle just out past the classic shoredump.

Paul Murray: Skippy Dies

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Kindle. More Irish lad lit, and as far as I know the last of Murray's books for me to read. He takes us to a prestigious private Catholic boarding school in Dublin, attended by the titular character who dies in the nearby doughnut palace in chapter 1. The end! But 600 pages follow.

The school is infested with the sorts of characters you'd find in a John Hughes movie from the 1980s. The adults stake out roles familiar from David Williamson's The Club: the hypocritical traditionalist, the old fogey, the neo-corporatist, the ineffectual critic, the druggies, and this being set where it is, the dodgy priests, the absent parents. Dismal old-boy teacher Howard, who gets the deepest treatment, never shoulders the tragedy he was created for. The loads of 2003-ish pop culture refs and criticism hew to mainstream views; this is not Jarret Kobek or Michael W. Clune, and all these dualities/oppositions don't add up to Hegelian synthesis. Dodgy teenage scientist Ruprecht is used to gesture at outre science (string theory and so forth) with little heat and less light. Pachelbel's Canon is something aliens should understand. Vacuous teen beauty queen Lorelei, investment banker sex object Miss McIntyre, American Halley and Skippy's ill mother prove that Murray can't inflate a female character to save his life.

There are too many characters, too many one-note characters, it's too often too cliched and way too long. Momentary transient transcendence shows that he can write, and he is at his best when he's showing and not explaining. But ultimately there's not a lot there to be shown.

Widely reviewed at the time. Dan Kois. Goodreads. And so forth. Congratulations to the publicist.

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The Indian summer rolls on. Got a felafel roll from Erciyes at Coogee for lunch; they wouldn't make one on Turkish bread for me, unlike the Cleveland St original. Read some more book. Quite a few people. Had a brief paddle: the shore dump was brutal. Very pleasant in. More book on the headland while drying off.

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Yet another beaut sunny day, but with a strong onshore wind. Ate lunch around 1:30pm on the rocks at the Clovelly carpark. Apparently Randwick Council is developing a masterplan for Clovelly Road. I attempted to snorkel off the scuba ramp but the strong swell (small waves) made things a bit too rough to relax into. Visibility was OK. Loads of small fry, heaps of ludderick just sitting around, some small gropers, no larger ones. Read some book on the rocks in the sun while drying off.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A beaut day. A touch cold out of the sun. Coogee was running its classic shore dump when I got in around midday. I dried out over lunch after on the headland near the Mother Mary Apparition. Not many people around and very few in.

Arsenic and Old Lace

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Over three or more sittings. Continuing with the Cary Grants. B&W. I didn't really get into it as the comedy is mostly slapstick with references to horror (much is made of his brother looking like Boris Karloff; I guess the stage show traded on him being played by Boris Karloff). A couple of Aunties have taken to relieving lonely men of their lives. Grant is a theatre critic and adamantly a bachelor, so much so he gets married in his first scene. There are cops, another brother, a graveyard and many bit players. The odd zinger is obscured by endless frenetic action. Highly rated by a large number of people at IMDB.

Someone at the New York Times at the time.

Paul Murray: An Evening of Long Goodbyes.

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Kindle. Continuing a run of mediocre (laddish) Irish writing, and having forgotten how irritating Paul Murray's hand wringing repetition can be. This one indulges in some cribbed-from-her-autobiography Gene Tierney fandom on a lightweight side track; there is nothing to recommend this version of her sad story. Sure, everyone agrees that Laura was awesome, but Whirlpool? The plot made little sense to me as the characters crowded in and somehow got along despite their origins in very distinct social strata (with very different drinking habits). Does anyone even remember the Celtic Tiger? So much pointless misdirection, so often, and such a self-deceived narrator makes for fake fiction.

Stephen Amidon. Goodreads suggests Murray did better with his next one.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Got down to Coogee beach about 12:30 for a brief paddle. Hardly anyone there. Flat, tide going out, about the same temperature in as out, at least in the sun. Ate my lunch on the headland after. Beaut day, and there can't be many left.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A frustrating morning: the charging socket on my old iPhone now seems defunct, and the people at Bondi didn't want to sell me a new one for a decent price. The IRS is playing a strange game with my U.S. taxes. What to do but go for a mid afternoon paddle at a mostly-deserted Coogee. Flat, tide going out, not entirely clean but not too bad. Warm in and warm out, at least in the sun.

It Had to Happen

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A Rosalind Russell jag from His Girl Friday. She seems a bit out-of-sorts in this clunker. The framing story has her returning from Europe and encountering some Italian migrants as she disembarks into b&w NYC in 1936. Clichés ensue: one (an entirely flat George Raft) takes a shine to her, and by means unexplained turns into a sort-of Robert Moses who "seems to hold all offices but none..." There are vast piles of high-minded civic BS, probity!, but ultimately this is about picking up another man's wife and how easy it was to make good in the USA back then. You too can marry an heiress! And she's entirely willing!

Raft fared better as a gangster, e.g. Spats Colombo in Some Like It Hot. His secretary Arline Judge's performance was more like what Russell later did.

Frank S. Nugent at the time.

Shadow

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On the strength of Glenn Kenny's review and expectations of Yimou Zhang's directing. There's not a lot to this that isn't a cliché. The kids are in charge of a kingdom in ancient China and intrigue as a distraction from their dismal little screens. Most of the movie is ponderous exposition with a pretence to cleverness. The camerawork/cinematography evokes a grim mountainous landscape, and yes, it's always raining in the valley of the shadow. The action is same-y same, claiming that "feminine moves" might win these days of bigly testosterone. The best parts involved zither playing.

Kevin Barry: Dark Lies the Island.

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Kindle. I was in the mood for more shorts. Well, these have little new to say. There are a few that click but too many seem derivative (of Irvine Welsh, of Snatch and lesser works like Tresspass Against Us, of the Irish storytelling tradition). Titular Dark Lies the Island muses over teenage self-harm, isolation, and the story about Lennon's island that Barry later spun into Beatlebone. Berlin Arkonaplatz — My Lesbian Summer is very tired.

Rachel Nolan at the time. Some critical opinions at Goodreads, e.g. Lorenzo Berardi points to the highlights that I'm too lazy to.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

It was surprisingly dry in the morning so I thought I'd sneak in lunch and a swim down at Gordons Bay. The rain started around 11:50am, just as I was hopping on the bike, but I was lucky enough to ride down and get in off the southern rocks before the street effluvia made it too far. (There was a huge amount of runoff from the storm drain on the beach, and enough to get a waterfall going off the southern cliff.) Seemed clean, the tide was out, very flat. Initially there appeared to be nobody in the bay at all (apart from the omnipresent mating call of the jackhammer/concrete saw of great wealth creation), then a few people slogging through the rain on the walkway. At some point a scuba flag appeared. Afterwards I ate my lunch under the cliff.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Got some sushi for lunch and ate it down on the Coogee headland. Crazy traffic today with roadworks everywhere. Two helicopters were out searching for something, and a boat. (One was the lifesaver, the other blue-and-white.) Cool, cloudy but no rain. Read some book on the headland then went for a brief paddle at a mostly-empty Coogee beach. Tried drying out on the headland afterwards with more book.

The Philadelphia Story

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Another highly-rated Cary Grant headliner, but really this is Kate Hepburn and Jimmy Stewart's show; both are so young here, and bounce off each other wonderfully. It's an east-coast high society sex farce which gently roasts and finally endorses the old moneyed. Despite the unappetising premise it's very funny even as the dialogue gets obscure. Second-stringer Ruth Hussey delivered her part flat, and was therefore the funniest.

Bosley Crowther at the time, and sixteen years later on the remake High Society staring Grace Kelly, Sinatra, Bing Crosby.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Warm around midday, but the duration of the swimmably warm parts of the day is shrinking rapidly, and out of the sun the wind is starting to bite. Ate my lunch on the Coogee headland then went for a paddle off the beach at Gordons Bay. Fairly clean, the tide was up, and absolutely flat. Not as many people there as I expected. Tried to dry off a bit afterwards again on the headland.

Citizen Kane

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It's been a while. The parallels with the present day are striking: a lock-him-up rabble-rousing populist campaign speech; Kane being told to check his privilege (over working men, who might eventually expect things as their right, not his gift); a pile in Florida; a Gatsby-esque excess in a guilded age; the manipulation of the news; the vacuity of stuff; the over-extended mogul; etc. Still #74 in the IMDB top-250 but getting squeezed out by lesser works.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert in 1998.

Samrat Upadhyay: Mad Country.

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Kindle. Shorts from Nepal via a review by Robin Black. A bust: it too often slid into Bonfire of the Vanities or traded in cliches or got repetitious or found other ways to lose me.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Another warm-to-hot and clear day. Walked down to Coogee, read some book on the headland, got in the extremely flat water around 3pm. (It is as if the huge surf down south has sucked up all the ocean's energies.) Quite a few people but not as many as yesterday.

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Late-afternoon trip to Coogee, where the pubs and parks were as packed as I've seen it. The beach wasn't so full. Read some book on the headland and then had a very brief paddle in the surf, then back to the headland to dry out.

This is Spinal Tap

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It's been a while.

His Girl Friday

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Second time around and just as funny. Continuing the recent run of Cary Grants. No longer in the IMDB top-250. I need to scare up more of Rosalind Russell's efforts.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

The run of sunny, warm-to-hot days continues. I wandered down to Coogee in the mid-morning, read some more book on the headland. Not too many people around but I imagine it'll be packed tomorrow. Got in at the north end of the beach around 11:30am: epically flat, clean-ish, a bit of a shore dump, a light onshore wind. Dried out once again on the headland, then headed home for some lunch.

Avengers: Endgame

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Opening day, The Ritz, 4pm, Cinema 1, $10 + $1.50 online booking fee = $11.50. Downstairs was closed because the previous session had made a mess of it. Upstairs was maybe a third full.

I'll just gesture at the paid noisemakers. Jason Di Rosso versus Jake Wilson. A. O. Scott got very sentimental. Dana Stevens: "Waiting for Thanos: Avengers: Endgame is like Samuel Beckett with superheroes."

Stoker

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Second time around. A Matthew Goode jag from Watchmen, and Park Chan-wook from The Little Drummer Girl. Doesn't really reward a second viewing.

Jarett Kobek: Only Americans Burn In Hell.

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Kindle. This is Kobek attempting to take a giant dump on Trumpistan following the epic commercial failure of his previous novel. (The last thing I read from him was the masterful Soft and Cuddly.) I learnt that he is a Guns'N'Roses fan, and that I may not presume that a character named Rose Byrne is white, although it's OK to think she's female. At some point he claims that his country is involved in a large covert and continuing war in Africa; unlike John Pilger he didn't go out and get the footage. That America has receded into infantility via comic books is news to nobody, as is the idea that U.S. ideology is fundamentally incompatible with Christianity. I struggled to parse his seemingly sincere but muddied endorsements of the latter. He's become a fan of lawyers and cleverness and is on similarly shaky ground with science. I liked his trick of changing the past by merely fiddling with the details of the present; that's innovative magic, like Charles Yu's grammatical moves.

His interview with Alan Moore sounds like he writes: using repetition as a rhetorical device in a lit crit seminar somewhere in NYC. They agreed that the (US? Anglo?) culture has stalled since 1995.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Wandered down to and ate my lunch on the headland at Coogee. Heaps of people on this last day of the Easter break on another perfect warm-to-hot and clear late-summer day. Read a fair bit of Jarett Kobek's latest. A toddler was let roam by his parents, gifting strangers with seed pods and big smiles. I got in the extremely flat and seemingly-clean surf around 2:50pm then dried off again on the headland.

To Catch a Thief

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A Grace Kelly, Alfred Hitchcock jag from Rear Window, and Cary Grant from Notorious. Everyone goes to the French Riviera and the result is worse than when Audrey went to Paris (either time). Cary plays a retired cat burgler, noble due to an association with The Resistance, and despite being seriously north of 40, the young ladies (Kelly and Frenchwoman Brigitte Auber) can't help themselves. It's all a bit vacuous, but aren't the gowns, jewels, landscapes, etc. just fabulous.

Bosley Crowther got overly enthused at the time.

Gone with the Wind

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The Ritz, Cinema 1, $10, 1pm. We're deep into the pre-Avengers vortex now: all that's on offer are golden oldies (the 80th anniversary! in 4K! with an overture and an intermission!) and a Tarantino retrospective. First time around for me. Perhaps a third full, where most people looked like they might just have seen it back in 1939.

Is this the pre-Tennessee Williams mold for the Southern gothic? Is it just a dodgy, romantic, sentimental apology for the devil? It has its fans, then (8 Oscars!) and now (#163 in the IMDB top-250); the epic colour at Wikipedia gives some perspective. Here we have Southern princess Vivian Leigh husband hunting on the family plantation until the American Civil War interrupts. War profiteer Clarke Gable, looking a bit like Lee Van Cleef in The Good, The Bad and the Ugly, or perhaps Omar Sharif, knows they're destined to marry but has to bide his time while she works through all the other men. (It could have been called three weddings and a funeral, but most of that isn't actually shown.) The storytelling is fluid for the first half then retreats with the war, leaving us with an unsavoury crowd. The scene at the railway station is timeless, and every so often a line crackles with knowing malice. There's a touch of the Gatsby, some dodgy accent work, and a strong assertion of property rights as understood by Irish migrants. It doesn't really have four hours of things to say.

The opening credits tell us that the Old South is "no more than a dream remembered" but the 2016 US Presidential Election shows there's more life in it than that.

Frank S. Nugent at the time. Roger Ebert around the 60th anniversary: "[GWTW] presents a sentimental view of the Civil War, in which the "Old South" takes the place of Camelot and the war was fought not so much to defeat the Confederacy and free the slaves as to give Miss Scarlett O'Hara her comeuppance."

Robert Caro: Working.

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Kindle. Caro has a huge reputation for his biographies of LBJ and Robert Moses (apparently the master sculptor of modern NYC), his thorough research and the length of the books. This short one was supposed to give us some insight into how he does it all but amounted to a bare assembly of articles I'd already read, such as this one in the New Yorker. There's so much repetition that I felt I'd heard all these stories before, making me think that he must not have that many stories. They are often quite good though, at least on a first encounter. He shields his researcher-wife Ina quite well, and his son almost completely. I think I'd prefer to read critical responses to his work than the work itself; say this one by Robert Moses.

Jennifer Szalai. Harold Evans.

Rear Window

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Second time around and I didn't remember a thing. Here Hitchcock would have us believe that globetrotting photographer James Stewart is equivocating about marrying "preview of coming attractions" Grace Kelly (!) while he mopes around his NYC apartment with a broken leg, passing the time by spying on the neighbours. The ending is too abrupt: I kept waiting for a twist that never seemed to come, which is perhaps in keeping with the steady ratcheting of the tension. #45 in the IMDB top-250.

Bosley Crowther at the time. Roger Ebert on its re-release in 1983 and in 2000.

Greg Egan: Artifacts (collected shorts).

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. A (possibly bootlegged) collection of shorts, some of which look like Egan working things out in public. Thematically he's fixated on equating consciousness with computation (Dust which became Permutation City — Paul Durham makes me think of Le Roux; Wang's Carpets) and corporate totalitarianism (Beyond the Whistle Test sounds like Facebook; Yeyuka on medical technology monopolies). There's an extended riff on Tim Buckley's big tunes in Worthless, with a namecheck of This Mortal Coil's eternal cover. Reification Highway tries to make sense of solid logic: a fuel, a mystical space of nonstandard substances? Is "Chalmer" a dig at the type theorists? Tap and others has it that infrared is the local wireless tech. Others riff on deals with the devil, vampires, made up physics, the eternal sunshine of the spotless mind, whatever.

It's more hard-boiled noir than cyberpunk.

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I figured I'd attempt a snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay as it's been so long. The tide was right out, which in combination with many people's tendency to loiter at the choke points made it slightly tricky to get in. (The people diving probably had it even worse than I did.) I'd never seen the bombora off the southern cliffs exposed before. Visibility was not great, and I didn't see much: a couple of small gropers, a larger one on the turn, ludderick, small fry. A perfect late-summer's day: warm, sunny, no wind. Dried off a bit by reading my book on the Clovelly headland.

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The BOM has forecast rain for the past several days but instead it has been sunny and warm for the most part, and dry as far as I can tell. Lunch and a lazy paddle at Little Bay around 1pm. More people around than I would have expected. The traffic is stil a bit impatient even though school is out.

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Mid-afternoon paddle at Coogee after laksa for lunch. Still a few people about, not too many in the water. Seemed clean-ish, flat, still warm enough. No wind, warm in the sun.

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Lunch on the Coogee headland in the early afternoon, and afterwards a brief paddle at the sourthern end of the fairly empty beach. A few people walking about on what cleared into a fine and warm day. Flat, not as clean as a few days ago, a brisk but not overly strong onshore wind.

The Maltese Falcon

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John Huston's first effort as director, and what a way to start: babe-magnet Bogart leads in a black-and-white adaptation (also by Huston) of Dashiell Hammett's hard-boiled noir. Second time around for me. There's a bit too much saying and not quite enough showing towards the end, and it seems highly doubtful from 2019 that anyone gave the SFPD that much lip and survived let alone thrived. The convoluted storyline is juiced for suspense. #225 on the IMDB top-250.

Bosley Crowther at the time (1941) — apparently this was the second mouse that got the cheese (the source material). Roger Ebert in 2001 — he claims this is the third.

White Hunter Black Heart

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A jag from The African Queen. Over two sittings. In 1990 Clint Eastwood tried to become John Houston as he chased his white whale (elephant) in the Congo while filming his Kate/Bogey classic. Clint set a few people straight on the need to fight for what's right, and not be ugly racist bitches; what he lost in fisticuffs he mostly won in verbal sparring. I was a bit surprised that Timothy Spall took on the minor role of the japing pilot. Jeff Fahey looked about the same as he did when working for ex-Ms Eastwood, as did George Dzundza. Some of it is funny, most is farcical. Apparently some was filmed onsite-ish in Zimbabwe and Zambia.

Roger Ebert. Janet Maslin.

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A beaut day to be back in Sydney: warm in the sun, coolish when the clouds came over. Walked down and ate my sushi for lunch on the Coogee headland, and read some book. Quite a few people about, not many in the water; I got in around 3pm. The beach was epically flat, a bit cooler than I remembered, and seemed clean. Afterwards I dried out by reading some more book.

Watchmen

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Apparently fourth time around. Roger Ebert. A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

Us

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With Dave at the Odeon 5, 8:30pm, $17.50 each. Stuck for choice: I hadn't seen Jordan Peele's previous Get Out and everything else screening seemed worse. It's a horror movie. The kids were the best, particularly Shahadi Wright Joseph who has some great comic timing. Lupita Nyong'o worked hard. I didn't really get into it, but was sufficiently engaged to be unimpressed by the switcheroo when it arrived.

Manohla Dargis reckons it's heavy on the symbolism. Dana Stevens.

Topsy-Turvy

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A Mike Leigh effort from 1999, and one of the last of his features for me to see. Many of his usual cast (Jim Broadbent, Timothy Spall, Lesley Manville, also Trainspotters Kevin McKidd and Shirley Henderson) participate in this portrayal of what may have been a pivotal point in the creative partnership of Gilbert and Sullivan. It's not at all my thing but there are loads of fine details to enjoy and the performances are uniformly excellent.

Graham Greene: The Heart of the Matter.

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Kindle. At a loose end for something to read, I picked this one up on the strength of Greene and it being on some list of 100 great English-language novels of the twentieth century. As always it's cinematic, just waiting to be shot. Somewhere on the coast of Africa, policeman Scobie is a similar character to George Smiley: a certain kind of wise Englishman who's hoping to go to a quiet grave having found his situation and making peace with an unsatisfied wife. The booze certainly helps. There are shades of A Quiet American: some intrigue, probity, corruption, cluelessness. But really, like The Power and the Glory, it centres on how Catholic theology ties ones hands: Greene has it that one must save one's own soul even at the potential cost of others'. Perhaps this was Greene-the-convert himself working it out in public.

Orwell nailed it in his review for The New Yorker: "Scobie is incredible because the two halves of him do not fit together. If he were capable of getting into the kind of mess that is described, he would have got into it years earlier." (etc)

Grindhouse: Deathproof and Planet Terror

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Second time around with these ultra-trashy Tarantino/Rodriguez exploitation flicks: it's just like From Dusk Till Dawn but more so. This time around I noticed Michael Biehn (Kyle Reese from The Terminator).

Notorious

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A black and white Hitcock from 1946. Second time around apparently, but I don't remember a thing. Daughter Ingrid Bergman is supposedly everyone's but she's only got eyes for party crashing Cary Grant, who plays the straight G-man until he can't. In between she gets hitched to Claude Rains in a plot to bust open a uranium-fueled Nazi plot in Brazil. It could have been 50-100% longer and I would still have been there.

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Mid-morning paddle at a mostly-deserted Coogee as the storm clouds rolled in. Pleasant with the occasional large shore dump.

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Beaut clear day with no rain. Went for a mid afternoon paddle at Coogee after updating vast piles of software on my machine at UNSW. Seemed clean. Quite a few people but nowhere packed. I stepped on a large dead spiny fish (?) getting out; fortunately my foot seems OK. Afterwards read some more book and dried out on the headland while a bloke played guitar further down the slope facing the beach. I wonder how many more of these days we have.

Jasper Fforde: Early Riser.

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Kindle. A pointer from Charles Yu. Drug-assisted hibernation, dreams and their manipulation, corporate corruption, zombies! — all in a snowy landscape that felt very familiar: wintry wastes like something Adam Johnson wrote or maybe just Game of Thrones, mixing in Total Recall and Ishiguro's spare parts, with Atwood-esque breeding units and random psychologising, building worlds via information dumps ala John Brunner. I often felt cheated by the narrator, wondering just how much was a dream and how much a cliché. There is lots of wordplay (the names of the Pool breeding stock), endless reversals (skinny shaming, a new ice age, a declining human population) and far too many secondary characters: soon enough I lost track of who knew what and who killed whom as it didn’t seem to matter. The ethical conundrums are dubious. I don't understand why anyone would feel obliged to preserve the English aristocracy. It's supposed to be fun, like a Douglas Adams, but it doesn't quite get there.

Fans and critics alike at Goodreads.

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Grim and cloudy, but with the window of opportunity closing I headed up to Manly to have lunch with Pawel and Sylwia (a pokè bowl at Momo), and attempt a snorkel at Shelly Beach. We got in off some stairs halfway from South Steyne where there's some conveniently smooth rocks and shallow sand. Good visibility, somewhat clean-ish. Almost immediately I spotted a big blue groper. There were loads of small fry and grown up yellow-fin fellers, ludderick. Pawel encountered a wobbegong on the way back. While we had a warm-up coffee across the road from South Steyne, fog seemed to roll in. (The morning rain had been light but it got more serious in the late afternoon. The ride over and back was more relaxed than previously. Somehow the traffic was placid.)

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A very lazy mid-afternoon paddle at Coogee after lunch with Amos and Johannes at UNSW. The clouds were coming over when I got in, which cooled what had been a warm to hot and stuffy day. Not many people down there, but some substantial roadworks on Coogee Bay Road did an equally good job of keeping the serenity in check.

He Died with a Felafel in His Hand

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More Brisvegas completism. Apparently third time around. The soundtrack is 2001-nostalgia for the early to mid 1990s. It'd be a total bust if it wasn't for Noah Taylor's occasional outbursts. Director Richard Lowenstein has some form for this kind of thing: the canonical Dogs in Space and Autoluminescent: Rowland S. Howard which I still have to dig up. Here Howard covers Iggy Pop's The Passenger, and I finally got around to listening to Moby's Play, which I bought on CD in late 1999.

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Early-afternoon paddle at Little Bay, straight after lunch. Not many people there on a beautifully warm late-summer day. Seemed very clean. On the way back I encounted an accident of some sort on Anzac Parade at Maroubra Junction (ambulance and police attending). After shopping there I got stuck in some heavy, irritating and dumb school traffic: so many distracted drivers.

Praise

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Third time around, I think — last seen about a decade ago. I'm still amazed by Sacha Horler's efforts here, and there's even more to Peter Fenton's passivity now than then. I'd forgotten that Joel Edgerton plays the mate. The rating at IMDB is low with few votes, which goes to show exactly how many people want to re-slum early-90s Brisvegas. I expect all the old boarding houses are gone.

Elvis Mitchell at the New York Times. David Edelstein. Both loved it.

This was Andrew McGahan completism; he wrote the screenplay and I'm too lazy to re-read the novel. I rank his output roughly as follows:

  1. Last Drinks
  2. Praise (the movie anyway)
  3. 1988
  4. The White Earth
  5. Underground
  6. Wonders of a Godless World

McGahan is far more comfortable in the past than the future (four are either personal- or Queensland-historic, one was futurism when written, the last is inspecifically present-day). Characters he lacks personal experience of are typically tendentious stereotypes. Four and five show that he could get worked up about politics (at the pub at least) but did not think of himself as an agenda-setter. The first three show his non-judgemental attitude towards libidinous hedonism; he probably took all he could get. The last two warn against writing about what you don't know, or in McGahan's case, haven't lived.

Andrew McGahan: The White Earth.

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On dead tree from the Maroubra branch of the Randwick City Library after I had no luck extracting it from the depths of the Waverley Library. McGahan's Franklin Miles winner from 1995, and the last of his adult novels for me to read.

It's 1992 on the Darling Downs and the dynastic pastoralists on the savanna (prairie?) are sweating Keating's response to the recent High Court decision (Mabo) that Australia was not, in fact, unoccupied back in 1788. One great-uncle ('great' being a relational distinction without a difference) tries to promote respect for Lockean property rights by evaluating his nine-year-old great-nephew's inheritance-worthiness after said nephew's incompetent farmer father is killed by fire. Somewhat like the current regime, he hotly rejects all aspersions that he is racist, and yet the mob he rallies to his property climaxes in cartoonish Klan action. There are inheritances based directly on Great Expectations, variants on Murray Bail's connection-with-land ruminations of Eucalyptus, a politician not so far from those in Last Drinks, and even a bunyip and a Voss-like explorer and hallucinatory sequence. Afterwards it all goes up in flames and how with a massive confluence of fire, drought-breaking rain, the Senate's vote on Keating's Mabo legislation, generational death (the old man has a heart attack! the mother dies while fetching the proof of inheritance!) and the rest. The symbolism is heavy: the childless daughter adopts the rootless boy. In brief, it is every inch the Great Australian Novel, or may have been if McGahan had held his nerve with the magic realism.

The two-track structure is as well-executed as it is well-worn. The cliffhangers get a bit irritating when the payoffs are such small potatoes: his characters play entirely to type, contrary to Patrick White's vituperative observations. The minor characters drink epically but that's not the focus here. Again McGahan is repetitive in the small: he says it, he says he said it, he reads it to us, and only then does the hand wringing begin.

James Ley.

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Laksa King for lunch with the Digital Asset crowd, then coffee, then a late afternoon paddle at an almost-deserted Coogee. I'm making the most of this fine-ish weather: cloudy, mid-20s. Pretty flat with some detritus. Read some book on the headland after. It's getting cold out of the sun.

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With the rain finally abating for a bit I made it to Coogee for a lazy paddle in the late afternoon. The strong onshore wind flattened things right out. Warm in, seemed clean-ish. Quite a few people about. Afterwards I dried out on the headland while reading some book and eating my leftover sandwich. It's getting cold out of the sun.

Evan Ratliff: The Mastermind.

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Kindle. This is heroic reportage about a deeply weird individual: Paul Le Roux, Zimbabwean, South African, sometime Australian, computer geek turned gangster. He's the man who did what Ross Ulbricht set out to do: liquidating (in meatspace! for real!) the people he thought wronged him. Strangely it seems likely that the latter will get a far heavier sentence than the former. This writeup also reminded me of Andrew O'Hagan's on Craig Wright, but there's far less doubt that Le Roux is the real deal.

Briefly, Le Roux hit on a likely-legal get-rich-quick scheme: he opened an online pharmacy (RX Limited) targeting the U.S.A., with doctors there signing the prescriptions and similarly local pharmacies filling them. His edge was in shipping only uncontrolled substances, which should have left him beyond the reach of the Feds. A morally bankrupt operation, sure, but on Ratliff's telling not illegal; I kept thinking the health professionals should have taken more care in their roles.

The strange part is that Le Roux took the massive proceeds ($US300M+) of this quasi-legit business to finance criminal operations in a reverse Michael Corleone; he was the man who would be king with boys from Brazil. (I feel like we saw many of the same movies.) Even more strangely, it appears he didn't execute any particular thing well beyond his original RX Limited cashcow. The incompetency of the Fed in the legal proceedings against the online pharmacies is breathtaking, and it is perplexing that they have used Le Roux to round up his underlings.

Alan Feuer brought it to my attention; he publicised Le Roux's testimony about a year ago. Ratliff told most of the juiciest bits in a series of articles for Atavist back in 2016.

The Caine Mutiny

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Queeg! In brief battle-scar(r)ed US Navy captain Bogart is found wanting in a large storm and deposed by his underlings. The latter half is lawyer José Ferrer having some fun, including a Nicholson-esque "you can't handle the truth" conclusion. Like the previous thing I saw him in (Whirlpool) there is much amateur diagnosis of mental disorders. Fred MacMurray is solid as the Judas, a proxy for the book's author. Subplot lead Robert Francis is a bit wooden. The peppy music gets annoying fast. It's a bit overegged and undercooked; the IMDB trivia suggests there was a larger movie trying to get out, and it is likely that would have been superior.

Watching this I realised Bogey would have been perfect playing Nixon.

Whirlpool

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A perplexingly poor Otto Preminger effort. The cast is stellar: Gene Tierney and José Ferrer amongst others. Nothing to see here at all.

Bosley Crowther at the time.

John Balaban: Remembering Heaven's Face: A Story of Rescue in Wartime Việt Nam.

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Second time around. I bought a dead-tree copy (a paperback) several months ago with the expectation that there'll eventually be a third.

Andrew McGahan: Wonders of a Godless World.

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Another dead tree from the Georges River Library at Hurstville. This is McGahan's final (adult/literary) novel from 2009; for the next decade he wrote young adult fiction. I might unkindly suggest that he should have started sooner. Here we get some strange happenings in a madhouse/hospital on an island, once again recounted in first person, this time by an orphan. She's mentally underdeveloped but in fine tune with the planet. A devilish though physically inert man arrives and turns her world upside down. Together they embark on some dubious adventures and other unnamed characters cop it in the neck. Much hand wringing ensues before a very tidy ending. Then again, the orphan might be an unreliable narrator! The structure, metaphor and reasoning are cliched and tedious. Most reviews out there suggest there was more structure, metaphor and reasoning that I didn't get, but are very short on specifics.

The American

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Second time around. George Clonney goes to Italy circa 2010. The locals fawn all over him. Anton Corbijn tries hard to vary his static style that worked so well in Control.

Andrew McGahan: Underground.

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Finding myself in Hurstville on Tuesday, I extracted a dead tree edition of this book the Georges River Library branch there. Again with the fraternal twins! — and similar dualisms.

Briefly, this is quick-read cinematic juvenalia: McGahan spills a lot of words in railing against the Howard era in 2006. (The end was nigh, but I guess few knew that at the time.) The plot pivots on the nuking of Canberra (!) and such fresh and deep insights as no one missing it. Somehow the resulting apocalyptic/fascistic conditions lead to a grand tour of the eastern states, from cyclonic far north Queensland to ghettoized Brunswick in Melbourne, but not really fortified Sydney. There's a Citizenship Verification Test which is (probably) far too close to the real ones. The prose is at best workmanlike once again. The structure is similar to Last Drinks: first-person revelatory, twisty, but with more action and less effect. It's all in that bias confirmation mode: you're expected to nod along or stop reading, but really Howard's dog-whistling Islamophobia of that time is a grim topic that doesn't pay anyone to revisit, as Peter Dutton is discovering now.

James Ley was unimpressed, as was David Pullar.

Patrick White: The Solid Mandala.

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Kindle. A portrait of a pair of twins who exhibit White's dualisms: numbers versus literature, empathy and haughty withdrawal, the white and the blue collar. Brute strength against fine motor control. Semi-rural Sarsaparilla (Castle Hill) against the city (Centennial Park). There's far more here on the inner life than Smee managed to even gesture at. One point of commonality was Arthur's incapacity to externalise his thoughts for a variety of reasons (inability to formulate them convincingly, unwillingless to persuade or influence, laziness, the ability to see the whole but not its parts, the inadequacy of the medium, so on). Told in technically seamless and virtuosic flashback. White is down on Goethe, like others. The most enjoyable parts to me where the very brief punchlines where White cashes in his extensive descriptions. Some are quite brutal.

Heat

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nth time around for large n. Michael Mann's masterpiece. Still #123 in the IMDB top-250.

The African Queen

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More John Huston. Second time around. Apparently Eastwood made a movie about Huston's desire to go big game hunting while making this.

The spy who came in from the cold

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Second time around. More Richard Burton.

Quarterly Essay #72, Sebastian Smee: Net Loss: The Inner Life in the Digital Age.

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On the not-yet-dead iPhone via Overdrive, loaned from the Randwick City Library after quite a wait. Not at all what I thought it would be: Smee seems ignorant of such not-so-recent critiques as Jarett Kobek's i hate the internet and Amartya Sen's capabilities model that aims to move past the blockages induced by overly rigid notions of identity. When will social media be deemed as dangerous to society as Class A drugs? The hand wringing concern comes in commodified form, oh the irony. He avoids following any thought too far. I guess I had hopes for a meditation on what is worth concentrating our shredded attention on these days; this diffuse essay isn't it.

I only briefly scanned the responses to Laura Tingle's previous Quarterly Essay. Both were busts, I feel.

Heaven Knows, Mr Allison

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A John Huston and Deborah Kerr jag from The Night of the Iguana. Robert Mitchum shares the lead. A U.S. marine and Irish nun find themselves stranded on a South Pacific Island and survive occupation by Japanese troops until the Americans arrive. It's all very proper and things go as expected with no offence given to the USMC or Catholic Church. Reading it another way it's a backhander: the skills of a marine will help you survive but may not get you the girl. There's some great cinematography. It obviously parallels Huston's The African Queen.

Crazy Heart

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Second time around. Prompted by A Star is Born. Hmm.

Ant-Man

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Marvel completism. Martin Donovan! Why didn't you say? Michael Douglas plays the same old tired note. Paul Rudd is pleasantly low key but I don't find him as funny as the movie needs me to. Evangeline Lilly is all face acting. If they'd made more of the fact most ants are female (the winged ones are typically males or queens) this may have been hailed as the first Marvel movie with a strong pro-female message. It's silly. I haven't seen lurv this strong since Interstellar.

A. O. Scott.

Ant-Man and the Wasp

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Excessive Marvel completism. This one got massively advertised on buses and bus stops in Sydney. Larry Fishburne! Why didn’t you say? Michelle Pfeiffer! Approximately as vacuous as the first one.

Manohla Dargis.

The Great Gatsby

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I read the book ages ago, and that put me off seeing the movie until now. For Carey Mulligan, but ultimately Joel Edgerton who was the only one fully committed to taking this show over the cliff. When are we going to see him in a Marvel movie? DiCaprio leads (like in Titanic? — which I still haven't seen). His "old sport" just doesn't work. Tobey Maguire is the bemused Nick Carraway. I didn't recognise Elizabeth Debicki, which shows how engaged I was. The politics seem dated beyond belief: Daisy has no agency. The music is banal. There are Australians everywhere. It's just another over-egged Baz Luhrmann thing.

A. O. Scott says it's not as bad as other people were saying at the time, but it is that shallow. He's right that shame has gone missing since the 1920s. Dana Stevens. And many others.

Captain Marvel

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With Dave. 3:30pm 3D session at the Odeon 5, $31-ish for us both. Maybe three other people. Released last Thursday. We had coffee/lunch beforehand at Bills Beans.

Low expectations and heavy politicisation made this seem more like a Star Wars episode to me. Dave was adamant that he was there for Jude Law and Ben Mendelsohn. (The latter reverts to his native strine when reunited with his refugee family, a fine rebuke that doubtlessly eluded most American commentators.) An anti-aged Samuel L. Jackson took on something of Larry Fishburne's Clean from Apocalypse Now. Brie Larson might have done her best. Annette Bening tried to make it into something. Arnie decided this was beneath him: the True Lies poster/stand thingie gets blasted and only Jamie Lee Curtis survives. Of course it should've been one for Pulp Fiction.

Reviews are dutiful. Dana Stevens: Finally, Women Have Their Own Mediocre Marvel Movie. Anthony Lane. The dogfight through canyons is what put me most in mind of Star Wars. A. O. Scott. The cat was a bit much.

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Headed down to Coogee with everyone else to read my book for a bit in the late-afternoon sun, then a paddle off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay. Still quite a few people out, it being Sunday and all, the unis back. Pleasant in, mostly flat, high-ish tide, far cleaner than I expected given the recent rain. Read some more book afterwards on the headland. Beautiful end to a steamy summery day.

Following

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A David Stratton marvellous movie (#36). Written and directed by Christopher Nolan. I'd seen it before but didn't remember much. A fine twisty little noir.

The Straight Story

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A David Stratton marvellous movie (#86); this one is by far the highest rated on IMDB (8/10) so far. In two sittings. The draw was David Lynch. A few decades before the epic use of a mobility scooter to retrieve a boat from storage, Richard Farnsworth decided he needed to see his long-lost brother (Harry Dean Stanton) one last time. Being of weak hip and eye but stubbornly self-reliant he figures that the best way to get from Laurens, Iowa to Mount Zion, Wisconsin is on his ancient ride-on lawnmower. Suffice it to say he really doesn't make it to Grotto. The daughter he lived with is played by Sissy Spacek. There's a bit too much all-American hokum about family, and a slightly off-kilter reminiscence about World War II, but otherwise this is a picture-postcard perfect love letter to the small towns, the corn and wheat fields of the Midwest from Lynch. Freddie Francis's cinematography is excellent. There's a whiff of Terrence Malick about it, and also Twin Peaks — notably Badalamenti's music and Big Ed Everett McGill.

Ebert got right into it. Janet Maslin was astonished that Lynch could mesmerise with G-rated material.

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Early-evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the southern rocks. Seemed clean. Flat, little wind, pleasant in. A few people about, many more on the northern side. Afterwards ate dinner on the Coogee headland. Warm day and evening.

The Killers (1946)

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A Burt Lancaster and Ava Gardner jag from Seven Days in May: a black-and-white take on an Ernest Hemingway story made about 18 years previous. Briefly "Swede" Lancaster gets murdered in the opening scenes and the insurance investigation gets told entirely in flashback, somewhat like Stanley Kubrick's The Killing. Lancaster is far too talkative to be a Swede. There's some boxing, some prison time, some noir; Edmond O'Brien leads in a Bogey kinda role and seems to to enjoy himself. Gardner is very young, and carries the femme fatale with insufficient conviction: she's often subdued (even a bit lifeless) and doesn't look very calculating. The plot is not very plausible and very tidily resolved.

Seven Days in May

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An Ava Gardner jag from The Night of the Iguana. She's very different here despite these movies coming out in the same year or thereabouts. Kirk Douglas is essentially the same as he was in Paths of Glory, speaking truth to power in black and white. Burt Lancaster plays the wayward general, chief of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, who thinks he can do a better job than President Fredric March, who in turn often sounds like GWB. It seems so old-fashioned for the man at the top to be combating conspiracies rather than promulgating them, though the big men of history is the same old timeless canard. The plot is earnest, much like Goodnight and Good Luck, and similarly virulently anti McCarthyist. Somehow this stuff always reminds me of Gil Scott Heron's B-Movie.

UNSW Centre for Ideas: Writing War: Kassem Eid & Mohammed Hanif.

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$10 booked 2019-02-23. The ticket included a drink so I got another 50 Lashes at IO Myers Studio. The sizeable audience sat in rows of chairs on the floor (they'd removed the risers). This pair of conversations was hosted by the Director of UNSW Centre for Ideas, Ann Mossop. Apparently they were both guests at the recent Adelaide Writers Week.

Briefly, Hanif wore a pink shirt, untucked, with sneakers and looked like he was in danger of sobriety. He owned to being born in 1965, that Pakistan has been at war throughout his life, and writing novels might be a bit childish but he's addicted to storytelling. Apparently writing Red Birds took most of the seven years since his previous novel. In his mind war is pure cynicism: some people make a lot of money from it, and careers are furthered. On a stage elsewhere he was told by a real Navy Seal that war was a lot like Call of Duty; absurdism rules the day. The present wars are very sanitised: little blood and few dead bodies, certainly no coffins, are shown on US TV. The classic Việt Nam movies were all focussed on an America traumatised by killing heaps of people: just stop it man. The current Pakistani government is a democracy but is censoring the press etc. like the military dictatorships.

In the brief Q/A session Eid suggests smoking a lot to get over trauma. Hanif's advice to his cadet journalists: don’t get fired, don’t get killed. There was also some discussion about citizenship.

Andrew McGahan: Last Drinks.

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Kindle. McGahan's third novel, and the third of his I've read. Apparently having exhausted his semi-autobiographical resources in his first two, he decided to give the all-Australian crime genre a go. Fellow Brisvegan John Birmingham wrote a boostery blurb (see also his own take), and a Ned Kelly was conferred.

Briefly this is a variation on the classic noirs. Taking, for instance, Sweet Smell of Success as a starting point, McGahan transplants the action from NYC to the epically corrupt pre-Inquiry Old Queensland of Joh and the epically cafe-d and bar-d Brisbane of now-ish, apparently amoral in a taking-the-fifth sort of way. He retains the focus on the social columnist as narrator and possible patsy. There's a femme fatale (not entirely a success, certainly not as much as Cynthia), the old mates, some graphic violence, and an excess of booze. So perhaps it's more Once Upon A Time In America with that love triangle, the unexpected marriage and the two-track, the good times going sour as they always do in stories like these. Similarly those guys only wanted to party all night. Or maybe there's too much Remains of the Day obliviousness; it's not funny, and too predictable.

So far McGahan has been structurally sound but very repetitious in the small, and across paragraphs, as if he is getting paid by the word. His excuse for the confessionals is that all players are Catholic. Marvin spilling the beans to George was particularly implausible. The South-East Queensland's electricity grid as a metaphor for politics was heavy-handed. Does going cold turkey in a motel room (at The Last Chance Motel of course) and an 11km mountain bushwalk owe anything to Trainspotting? Despite being essentially derivative, the core of this book is addiction and quite often McGahan nailed it.

Queensland is a rich seam and someone's got to have mined it more deeply than this. Joh's Wikipedia page is a ripping read. Chris Masters at the height of his powers (and thanks ABC for letting us download your archive). The cupidity! and so dumb. Bob Williams read this book so you don't have to.

Impulse

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Yet another David Stratton Marvellous movie (#47). Over two sittings. Ex Ms Eastwood Sondra Locke directed; loads of details about her situation on her IMDB bio. She passed recently.

This is yet another exploration of the seamy side of life in Los Angeles. Lead actress Theresa Russell is gorgeous in classic go-getter 80s style. She's bait for the vice squad. Lead bloke, Jeff Fahey (looking much like William Petersen in To Live and Die in L.A. but a step closer to Michael Keaton), works for the D.A. and finds himself in need of her skills and so much more. Things go as you'd expect. The sexual politics is a bit suck-it-up-princess; there's not much empowerment but lots of harassment, some of which is welcome but most not. There's the suggestion that everything can be bought, but the window for closing the transaction might be narrow.

Its rating at IMDB is really low, but it's not that bad. Roger Ebert. Caryn James. I'm starting to think that Stratton would be happy watching daytime T.V.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch and a lazy paddle at Yarra Bay. There are still signs up everywhere warning about the possibility of a cruise ship dock being built there. Beaut day for the most part. Some thunderclouds blew threw mid-afternoon. Read some book on the grass nearby. Quite a few people on the beach. Clean, flat with a light offshore breeze.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lunch at Lady Martin Beach, just to see what's there. It's almost private. The water was filthy along the shoreline. Afterwards I popped over to Woollhara Library at Double Bay, again just to see what's there. They have an indoor garden at the info counter and a surfeit of computers for doing admin. After that I hacked a bit on the Coogee headland and read some book in the strong wind. I had an early-evening paddle off the southern rocks at Gordons Bay: clean, high tide, not many people. The hot day cooled off rapidly, signalling a sort-of end to summer.

A Running Jump

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A Mike Leigh-directed short from 2012. Doesn't seem to add up to much, though the acting is as good as always. The reviews at IMDB explain why: it was apparently made for the London Olympics and is no more than a series of gags.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay with heaps of people. Tail end of a beaut summer day. Visibility was poor. Saw a couple of large female gropers, the almost-blue big one, some small fry, ludderick, no stingarees. Flat, high tide, no wind. Read some book on the Clovelly headland afterwards.

Max Headroom (TV movie)

/noise/movies | Link

I have vague memories of Max Headroom from the 1980s, somehow juxtaposed with the ABC's Rock Arena. I thought it was something like a five-minute cartoon (a Bugs Bunny for the MTV generation) but it turns out to be a TV series. This was the pilot, which apparently later got remade. It is frustratingly inconclusive. Also it's English, not American — the accents are all over the map.

Andrew McGahan: 1988.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. McGahan passed recently, and that prompted me to take another look at what he wrote after Praise. Where else to start but with this followup, its prequel.

Here a not-yet-smoking, pre-Cynthia Gordon takes a road trip in a Kingswood from Brisvegas to Darwin with Wayne, an effeminate and somewhat useless artist who mostly rubs him the wrong way, for a job at the Cape Don meteorology station. Yep, it's isolated. Yep, the blokes are unprepared and inept. There is epic drinking, epic circlework and epic boredom. Some Aboriginal dreaming. The more responsible characters are sketched. One is a frustrated desert-country Steve Irwin, parked by the NT conservancy management in this swampland largely because the previous guy was more alpha. Another is an elder who metes out some rough justice. Most if not all tropes of Australian manhood are trotted out and found wanting, and find Gordon wanting too. His ability to disappoint everyone, including himself, is his not-so-secret superpower. The shame he feels for his body overshadows it all. I think McGahan wedged in all the horror genre moves he thought he could get away with. The outro is a bust.

The prose is workmanlike and I enjoyed it more than I remember enjoying Praise. The Russian movie How I Ended This Summer has a similar setting with similar fishing and surprisingly far less epic drinking. Goodreads: I imagine the ratings fall along gender lines.

The Guilty

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Danish Oscar bait. Scandi noir fused with the claustrophobic one-man one-set thing that worked so well for Tom Hardy in Locke. Yep, he's on the phone pretty much the whole time. There's a twist (but only one). The cinematography is washed out. It's a bust.

Jeannette Catsoulis got right into it.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

For various not-good reasons I haven't been getting enough sleep, so instead of continuing to execute tactics when I need to plan strategy I decided to walk down to Coogee in the early afternoon. I ate my leftover curry on the grass along Arden St and read some more book. Afterwards I had a brief early-afternoon paddle in the surf, which was totally flat and cleanish, modulo some seaweed. There were quite a few people about on a beautiful summer day.

Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You by Louris van de Geer.

/noise/theatre | Link

A freebie from the UNSW Creative Practice Lab. Closing night, packed with family; the Italians near me chatted throughout. It was hot and stuffy inside IO Myers Studio once the players got going. Dinner at Pinocchio Sushi beforehand, and a 50 lashes pale ale. Loads of people out and about, uni being back and all.

This piece is exactly what the playwright says it is: slices of small-town Americana. The cast was large, the set minimal. Some of it is quite fun, such as the compere's mugging to the camera and audience, and his narcissistic interactions with the lady who seems to be his number-one fan. Also the ensemble-opening piece, with the actors completing each others' sentences. I found the beauty pageant parts dragged a bit, despite the performers' best efforts.

I realise now that it has many similarities to Magnolia.

Australian String Quartet: Haydn Winkelman Sibelius at the City Recital Hall.

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A freebie via the Australian Chamber Orchestra. Their resident cellist was on maternity leave so they got to take the ACO's Timo-Veikko Valve on their national tour. This was their final night. Maybe half full at most. I had some hopes as I like this format but it wasn't really my thing; the highlight was some of the Sibelius.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Finding myself more of a zombie than I'd hoped, I went for a mid-afternoon snorkel at Gordons Bay off the scuba ramp after lunch at Laksa King. Visibility was decent away from the shore. I saw a couple of large female gropers and one on the turn: (s)he was blue at either end but still green in the middle. Also a few large wrasse, loads of small fry, a small school of garfish (?). Relatively flat, high tide, light wind. Not many people, and everyone in the water was snorkelling. Some far-too-brassy blue wrens came up to me on the path down to the ramp.

The Night of the Iguana

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I've been meaning to watch this one for ages. John Huston directed and co-adapted Tennessee Williams's play. The cast is stellar. A reference in A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain prompted me to dig it up. Black and white in two sittings.

Sort-of-defrocked Reverend of the Gospel Richard Burton is chaperoning (really, being chaperoned by) a group of Baptist ladies from Texas led by Grayson Hall (cast precisely to type I'd expect) touring Mexico circa 1963. (Burton also played a priest in the contemporaneous Becket.) He brings them to a resort on a hill near the sea at Puerto Vallarta where good friend and recently-bereaved Ava Gardner holds court and has a blast. Later on quick-sketch artist and spinster Deborah Kerr arrives with her poetic grandfather and provides spiritual consolations to go along with the boozy ones. (I can just imagine her in The King and I.) Sue Lyon does over the willful Lolita role. None of the ladies can help themselves. Burton has never been funnier, perhaps because the Liz and Dick show was in town and going strong for the duration of filming.

Bosley Crowther at the time. I think he got it about right, but for me the stakes were lower.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle at Coogee. The beach was far emptier than I would have expected. Some thick clouds about, no rain, but a tad cooler than at midday. Pretty flat, not too dirty. Dried out on the headland afterwards.

Mohammed Hanif: Red Birds.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I remember really liking A Case of Exploding Mangoes but not his second effort Our Lady of Alice Bhatti. This one is a bit of an interpolant of those two: we're parked in a (re)fugee camp in close proximity to an abandoned (?) military airbase and I didn't get the gist of it at all. There is so much circling around whatever it was that the characters do not do the obvious thing of going to The Hangar until the 80% mark.

Structurally it's all first person with the narration rotating amongst a dog (with the obvious and sometimes cutting conceit of describing things by smell, e.g. "objectivity smells of stale piss"), a teenage tearaway Milo Minderbinder-esque entrepreneur, his mother, a downed American pilot, Lady Flowerbody (a spy? a do gooder? a temptress, a token, a cliche), a doctor-of-sorts. What are we to make of Hanif's recycling of the myth that Neil Armstrong converted to Islam while on the moon? Are the red birds drawn straight out of the M. Night Shyamalan playbook? There is no resolution.

Reviews are legion. Jonathon McAloon observes that things are too damn ambiguous. Hanif is apparently at UNSW next week.

... and much later, Parul Sehgal. Also Karan Mahajan.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Another beaut evening. Went for a paddle at the north eastern end of Gordons Bay off the scuba ramp after an afternoon at the Waverley Library. Flatter than yesterday. Not many people around. Cool wind. Didn't injure myself. Dried off while reading some more book on the chair in the north-eastern corner of the carpark, overlooking Clovelly.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A beaut day despite the BOM's forecast. I decided to spend the afternoon by walking down to Coogee, eating my lunch on the park next to the beach, and having a coffee at Black Boho at the southern end of the beach. Coogee had some nice waves rolling in apparently due to Cyclone Oma. BeachWatch told me it was probably filthy so I headed over to Gordons Bay. I got in off the southern rocks in the late afternoon, and even in the middle of the bay there was some detritus. Three tourists were trying to snorkel. Some others were sitting around. In between all that I read a bit more book.

The Hollars

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The things Sharlto Copley makes me watch. Mr Emily Blunt, John Krasinski, stars and directs. There's almost nothing to redeem this cliche-ridden family thing.

Okja

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It took me several goes to get through this. I found it far more tiresome than Bong Joon-ho's previous directorial efforts (e.g. Snowpiercer), which was surprising as the reviews were universally positive. The humour falls flat. Tilda Swinton starts strongly before degenerating to a cliche. Jake Gyllenhaal is especially feeble. Paul Dano is beatific, as always. Briefly: an American genetically-engineered superpig grows up in Korean mountains with a girl (an insufficiently-challenged An Seo Hyun) and her grandfather in perpetual summer. The rest goes as you'd expect. Notionally this is a comment on corporatised, mechanised industrial animal production but really it's a bust.

Dana Stevens. Yes, the pig is more like a rhino or a hippo. A. O. Scott.

Doctor Strange

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Second time around. It's one way to burn a rainy Saturday evening.

Shoplifters

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Perhaps the pick of the 2019 Oscar bait. A very strangely constituted Japanese family muddles its way to ruin without much sentimentality but with some fine humour and some beautifully drawn scenes. (If I got it right, not one of the six is formally related to anyone else.) The plot takes a backseat to some patient character development. It's sort-of like a Lukas Moodysson effort, unflinching but without the brutality. I might have to dig deeper into Hirokazu Kore-eda's efforts.

Manohla Dargis.

Amor Towles: A Gentleman in Moscow.

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Kindle. A recommendation from Kate. An elegant eulogy for a time when Russian Counts were awesomely cultured and internally-exiled to house arrest in grand hotels. That is to say, it is a fairy story for adults and completely out of time in this age of Trump. We also get some potted history about the revolution, the passing of Stalin and so forth; it's a bit of a social complement to Red Plenty, sort of. The observations are fantastic. The set pieces go off like clockwork. There's a beaut romance between the Count and an actress. I was gripped throughout, though it flagged a bit at times. The ending was a tad unclear: Towles is American and may take it for granted that emigrating to the USA from the East in 1954 was a no brainer, but Spufford might disagree: the Soviets were beginning to demonstrate their (brief) engineering superiority with nuclear power, Sputnik and Gauguin (etc). In this book noone (ever) believes too much in the communist project.

Craig Taylor's review left me cold at the time, but it seems more positive on a reread. Goodreads generally loved it.

Midnight's Children

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A mediocre adaptation of Salman Rushdie's big novel. He also wrote the screenplay, and like Amis, blew it — even with some serious bowdlerizing there's still far too much going on in a lengthy two and a half hours. The winnowing makes it into the skeleton of an XMen movie. The characters are thinly drawn. The slum is amazingly clean. The cinematography has its moments. The magic is absent. Rushdie narrates, flatly. It was strange to hear Nehru voice his famous words.

Rachel Saltz at the New York Times at the time. She observes that they needed to go unabashedly large.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Grabbed some sushi from Royal Randwick to eat down at Little Bay around 2pm. The wind was up and the forecast (light) showers started around then. Most of the people departed the beach at that time. Soon enough it passed and I got in for a brief paddle. The tide was way out. Some blokes tried to snorkel. Loads of dumb, pushy, heavy traffic on the way home.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early-evening paddle off the beach at Gordons Bay on yet another perfect summer day. High tide, going out I think. It seemed clean enough out in the bay once past the leaf litter, seaweed, etc at the shoreline. Still a few people there, and a few yappy, whiny dogs. Dried out on the headland afterwards and got a bith further into my current book.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Loads of people still there on what was a perfect late summer day and evening. The water seemed clean. High tide, going out. Read some book on the Coogee headland while drying out.

The Magnificent Ambersons

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An Orson Welles jag prompted by Geoffrey O’Brien. Black and white, 1942 but recalling the guilded splendour of the 1870s. Based on the Booth Tarkington novel, which apparently had the same effect on Welles as Honkytonk Man had on Clint Eastwood. It took me a few goes to get through it. Joseph Cotten, Anne Baxter. The nostalgia for a simpler pre-mechanized time (horses over automobiles, towns over cities, family honour over love) manifests initially as humour and high-society happenings, later as bathos. I didn't understand why the family ended up ruined as the moneyed-up patriarchal grandfather is in deep background when it came. In any case there's always the customary epic production woes to read about. Classy credits!

London Fields

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A shocker of an adaptation of the Martin Amis novel. I apparently it read about thirteen years ago and recollect approximately nothing at all. He gets a cameo at least, and that might be this thing's high point, Unless you're an Amber Heard fan, in which case you can enjoy acres of her flesh, photographed as one advertisement after another. The camera leers. Let's at least agree that she can't act, or at least couldn't in 2015 when this hot mess got filmed. Her paramour-of-the day Johnny Depp turns in a self parody. Billy Bob Thorton is the writer/authorial presence, competing with Theo James to be flawlessly characterless. Jim Sturgess is horrible as a lightweight Ray Winstone. Terrible performances all round, with the exception of Jason Isaacs's reliable ham.

Jeannette Catsoulis woke me up to it. It was another shock to find that Amis co-wrote the screenplay. Apparently he's had a go before with approximately the same lack of success.

Kim Un-su: The Plotters, translated by Sora Kim-Russell.

/noise/books | Link

Kindle. I picked this up after reading Rupert Winchester's review at the Mekong Review. Published by Text. It's a pretty stock piece of cinematic Korean lowlife ultra violence. Our lonely protagonist is an orphan dumped in a garbage bin at a convent who was raised to be an assassin by a lame librarian. He's a cat man. All the fun is in the colour: an eight-sided matchbox, bottomless soju, endless Korean-style drinking, the rise of democracy in South Korea fuelling rather than quelling the demand for assassinations, the Doghouse library master-crafted by a Japanese, finding love but insufficient meaning amongst provincial factory workers. Apparently the author is big in Korea. One bum note stuck in my head: he asks "whoever heard of a Californian bear?" as if that's not a bear right there on the state flag. Sure, it's been extinct for a while.

Alison Flood. Charles Finch.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

A very tame kookaburra.

Following an abortive trip to the emergency department at Prince of Wales Hospital last night (got there around 5pm, timed out at 7pm), hoping to get that stuff extracted from my toe, I figured I'd get properly prepared (dinner, laptop, reading material) and try the same at Royal Prince Alfred after a swim down at Wattamolla. I ducked into the Sutherland library on the way past, and a coffee at a little caf next to the Ramen cafe that was doing a roaring trade.

I got waved past the tollbooth on the road into the Royal National Park. The beach was quiet: just a few loutish tourists doing their best to enliven things. Some leaf litter in the water, otherwise the usual. A beaut day for it: not too hot, some cumulus but no rain in sight. I read a bit more of my book at the picnic table where some unafraid kookaburras came right up to me.

The ride up the Princes Highway was painfully slow. I got to Royal Prince Alfred around 5:10pm. There's loads of motorcycle parking up and down Missenden Road. The reception bloke was chirpy. The triage nurse didn't mind me heading back to the bike to grab my dinner. The doctor turned up around 5:45pm, apologising profusely for it taking that long. (Apparently it was bedlam somewhere beyond the waiting room.) She deftly removed the two chunks of unknown material from my right big toe, chatting all the while. Around 6:20pm I got a tetanus jab from a nurse, and 7:15pm an x-ray that showed she'd done a good job. At 7:45pm the doctor gave me my discharge notice and sent me on my way with a prescription for antibiotics.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Picked up lunch at Out of the Blue on Clovelly Road, which I'd been past too many times. A bit expensive ($20.30) for mediocre fish (hake, grilled, not much choice), an OK Greek salad and some pre-deep-fried calamari. A couple of guys replacing the front door were careless about the customers. Why do that work at lunchtime?

I ate down on the rocks at Gordons Bay. The wind was up and the seagulls had decided to spend what I'd imagine is prime feeding time on the edge of the carpark, where some firies where practising their cherry picker technique. A few storm clouds blew through on an otherwise beaut day. Afterwards I tried snorkelling off the scuba ramp. Visibility was not great as the surf, high though weak, was somehow rough enough to stir everything up near the shoreline. Loads of small fry, some large wrasse, one large female groper, several smaller ones, but no sign of the big blue boy or any cephalopods. I managed to get a few shards of something-or-other stuck in the big toe of my right foot, beyond the reach of my tweezers.

Romance and Cigarettes

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Another David Stratton marvellous movie: #80. John Turturro wrote and directed. The cast is stellar stellar: James Gandolfini leads opposite increasingly estranged wife Susan Sarandon with slatternly, working-class, hardbitten English Kate Winslet his piece on the side. (She's game, I'll give her that.) Christopher Walken puts in a one-note effort as a weak Elvis clone. Steve Buscemi's one liners fall flat. It's a musical. Produced by the Coen brothers and many others. I found it incoherent: lurv in Queens (?), and growing up in a splintering family. Most of it is a pile of fluff that tries to hit the heavy notes at the end, much like Honkytonk Man. Leering camerawork. Again lowly rated at IMDB.

Stephen Holden and Roger Ebert thought as much of it as Stratton did.

The Grand Budapest Hotel

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Second time around, and just as captivating. Good to see it parked at #188 in the IMDB top-250.

Belvoir Downstairs, 25A: Tuesday by Louris van de Geer.

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The Sydney theatre scene is starting to crank up after the summer break. The draw was the high standard so far of Belvoir's 25A series, Jason Blake's comments on the set, which is indeed fantastic, and Bridie McKim, last seen as daffy aristocracy in NIDA's The Country Wife. The playwright is a local favourite it seems: I saw her earlier work Triumph at the UNSW Creative Practice Lab, and they're putting on Hello There, We've Been Waiting For You presently. I bought a ticket at the warehouse in the early afternoon, then hacked away at the Sydney Uni technical library. Maybe 80% capacity without squeezing.

This piece consists of the self-talk of four non-interacting people who for one reason or another find themselves at the same suburban supermarket one Tuesday afternoon. The initial burst of humour ebbs, perhaps necessarily so as to lend shape to what are otherwise brief vignettes, some painfully familiar. The cast is uniformly excellent. Left-to-right, Duncan Fellows plays the supermarket manager with a baby daughter he dotes on, and a wife who seems to be suffering post partum depression/idleness (?). Frances Duca is a traditional mother/housewife who wonders what her husband is doing in his garage with his jars of screws. She loathes competitive gossip. Tom Anson Mesker is a young-ish underemployed sharehouser with a strong and passive-aggressive sense of how things should go. Bridie McKim is a schoolgirl who picks locks and gives herself permission to do whatever. Further characters are sketched from these vantages. This mode, of hearing very private observations about people who have no chance to respond, is effective and a tad sinister.

The Front Runner

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Unmitigated Oscar bait. The cast is strong (Hugh Jackman in the lead, J.K. Simmons playing J.K. Simmons, Vera Fermiga the wifely deer in the media headlights) but the story and characters are entirely bland and far too weak; Gary Hart's presidential campaigns are lost to history and hardly an inspiration for today. The dialogue is very stagey. Alfred Molina does not convince as Ben Bradlee. The movie tries to stand in opposition to The Post by showing a political press failing to cover itself in glory. It's also entirely tendentious, given that so much of the U.S. electorate really didn't care who was in which candidate's bed in 2016, let alone which of them had any dignity and self-respect at all. Well edited but otherwise a totally predictable bust.

A. O. Scott.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Almost no one there despite it being a beautiful evening. Seemed clean with the tide going out. I saw what I think were some flying fish (?). Started in on a new book on the Coogee headland while drying off.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening paddle between the flags at Coogee beach. Loads of people, some in the water, many frocked up for a night at the Beach Palace. A bit filthy with leaf matter and some seaweed. Some larger waves. Pleasant in. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the headland afterwards.

Fintan O'Toole: Heroic Failure: BREXIT and the politics of pain.

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Kindle. I picked this up on the strength of O'Toole's short-form work at the New York Review of Books; in particular his excellent piece on the DUP telling May what was possible. I hoped he'd expand on this topic of non-English views of BREXIT, but instead he serves up a psychoanalysis of the English character. Roughly English self-pity in the aftermath of World War II (they won but it cost the empire, and the bested nations seemed to do better afterwards) has left them looking for an oppressor to rail against. It's the coloniser trying to appropriate the attitudes of the colonised. It's the Sex Pistols in Westminster, and a desire by those who can to return to buccaneering capitalism. Yeah, well, maybe.

Just like David Runciman, O'Toole freed of a word limit and strict editor spills too many words on the obvious; he says it, then digs up a quote and reads it back to us. There's an undercurrent of dripping scorn that likely prevents this book from persuading anyone of anything much. I think he admits that the BREXIT campaign (he read all that dreck so we don't have to) diagnosed the anxieties of the day quite well, though like Trump their prescription is probably not going to solve much. As anyone from a British colony can attest, and the French have always known, the cognitive dissonance required to be English is forever bemusing. The deep mystery is why the working classes of everywhere don't vote in their own economic interests but instead focus on quaint social values or identity politics and end up making common cause with the twitty ruling classes; but you won't find much insight into that here.

O'Toole clearly loathes Boris Johnson. He repeatedly observes how juvenile English culture can be (football, pop music, empty-headed neo-imperial ambitions): it's not insapient, it's just having itself on. There's nothing here on the Irish backstop, or more broadly what it will take to preserve the peace or the possibility of reunification. It's a bust.

Hari Kunzru nods along and proposes a quantity theory of xenophobia: the decline of traditional English racism made room for Euro septicism. A range of views at Goodreads.

Honkytonk Man

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It's a sad state when a man can't buy a woman for his own boy.
— Red Stovall, the honkytonk man.

Still mining David Stratton's list of marvellous movies; this one is #44. Over many sittings as it failed to grip. Clint Eastwood directed and starred. Released in 1982, he's on the road to Nashville from dusty Oklahoma during the depression with his underage nephew (his actual son Kyle) as chauffeur, drinking and wenching partner. The idea is to make something of his musical talent but tuberculosis has other plans. There are some of the usual Eastwood preocuupations, and his put downs are entirely equal-opportunity (as he sees it anyway). Clint plays piano on a visit to a cathouse, as he also does in a black club in Memphis, where he rolls out a joke about adopting blackface to avoid trouble with the Klan (?). The blues singer takes it all in good humour. The camera angles made him look a bit like Henry Fonda at times.

Roger Ebert is indulgent. Janet Maslin isn't.

The Lego Movie 2: The Second Part

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The Ritz Cinema 3, 2:30pm. $10 + $1.50 booking fee = $11.50, booked 2019-02-06. Thanks to the bloke at Bricking Around for the heads up; this advance screening coincides with the US release, with the official Australian release not until March 28. The BOM forecast rain which didn't really happen. Somewhat packed with kids whose parents don't go to the movies much.

Yeah, the movie itself follows on directly from the first one in a five-years-later sorta way. It probably alluded to the in-between one but I don't remember anything. The animation is about the same but the structure is closer to a musical. The framing story is a saccharine cliche about siblings learning to play together under Maya Rudolph's firm motherly suffering. The characters joke that the Marvel characters are absent for contractual reasons. The DC characters set up in suburbia. Less is made of Apocalypseburg than I expected. The queen is a strange character: voiced with a distinctive black accent we're told time and again to expect evil of her. The joke that Unikitty is Hulk-like gets a lame rerun; perhaps her spark wore off on her TV shows, or just maybe the concept itself has gotten tired as the overengineered credits ("the best part of the movie") suggest.

Manohla Dargis says it's one big ad, but to foreigners most American movies are. Lots of locations means lots of sets to sell I guess. Shrug. Jay.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Lazy paddle in the mid evening with hundreds of people at the northern end of Coogee beach. Perfect summer evening after a warm afternoon. Flat, clean-ish. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the headland afterwards.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. I got in off the southern rocks about 10 minutes before the forecast storm kicked in; lots of lightning and thunder but nothing too close. The people who were there cleared off quick smart. Pleasant, high tide-ish, seemed clean. Soon enough the runoff was torrential. Sat for a bit out of the rain under the sandstone. Got soaked on the slow ride home.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening sort-of-snorkel at Gordons Bay. Visibility was poor on the southern side, improving somewhat as I got into the sun. Loads of people on the northern rocks. A few dogs, all quiet. Read some more Fintan O'Toole on the Coogee headland.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Got in off the beach, which was filthy. Somewhat cleaner in the middle. Pleasant in, totally flat, high-ish tide. Very few people, just two well-behaved dogs. Ate my dinner on the Coogee headland afterwards, and started in on Fintan O'Toole's new book.

Billy Lynn's Long Halftime Walk

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David Stratton's marvellous movies, #11. Ang Lee directs. I remember giving this a miss when it was released in 2016. It's pretty much what it says on the tin: a hero and his platoon go home from Iraq for Thanksgiving and participate in the halftime entertainment of a Texas NFL game in 2004. I guess it's essentially a reversal of the Bunnies going to Việt Nam in Apocalypse Now flimsily spun out to feature length. Apparently Destiny's Child was big then. Joe Alwyn is solid in the lead. (I saw him recently in The Favourite.) The moment he shares with cheerleader Makenzie Leigh at the end speaks more than anything else. Kristen Stewart ably plays his sister. Garrett Hedlund has the most fun as the platoon leader. Steve Martin doesn't convince as a Texan shyster. Similarly Vin Diesel isn't all that Hindu (Stratton says Buddhist, but he spends most of his time talking about Vishnu, Krishna, etc.). I felt the soldiers were allowed to exhibit sufficiently distinct characters for this all-American production. The antiwar flag is half-heartedly waved, and we are shown the boosting and busting of myths and illusions that we've seen many times before. It's all a bit shrug.

Dana Stevens made many small mistakes in her review; for instance Lynn is in the army to avoid being charged with taking it to his sister's fiance who abandons here while she is in hospital. Stevens observes that this got released around the time of Trump's election. A. O. Scott.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Mid-afternoon paddle at the northern end of a flat Coogee beach. Quite a few people about but not packed. The water seems to have cooled off again. Beaut day, not too hot. Some dark clouds rolling in but rain seems unlikely.

Robert Olen Butler: A Good Scent from a Strange Mountain.

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Kindle. I read this over several years as the stories are all written in the same highly-repetitious, workman-like style. As much as I remember the protagonists are always Vietnamese expats (typically refugees) living in or near New Orleans and trying to interpret their experiences in traditional terms. I got the pointer from a review of his more-recent Perfume River collection. Somehow this one won the Pulitzer in 1993 for fiction. I found it to be shallow, and nowadays it would probably be charged with cultural appropriation.

George Packer observes that in its day these stories may have helped humanize the Vietnamese, remembering that 1995 was the year when the U.S. normalized relations with Việt Nam. A variety of views at Goodreads.

Bad Influence

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David Stratton's #8 on his 101 marvellous movie list. James Spader plays a "successful" working stiff who gets an education from professional bad boy Rob Lowe (and maybe later he'll tell you his real name). Lowe does Spader a favour by getting him out his marriage arrangements through judicious deployment of some homemade porn involving Billy Zane's older sis Lisa. He also steals Spader's wallet as payment for preventing some face mashing. Later on the tables must be turned if only because the ante has been upped and lives are at stake. Lowe is as canonically 1980s as Mickey Rourke but nowhere as physically intimidating, and this movie is a part of the 1990's seemingly never-ending farewell to that decade. The tropes are all there: the actor from a high school movie, the dork, some great cinematography that makes U.S. cities look beyond awesome, the perpetual summer, the TVs with analogue static, the VHS tapes. I drew a bit of a line from it to Alexandra's Project, which somehow isn't on Stratton's list. Boss John de Lancie falls into the uncanny valley by looking like all of Tom Hanks, Bill Murray and Paul Eddington and being, of course, Q. David Duchovny is in some crowd somewhere. Fun for what it is.

Roger Ebert. Vincent Canby. Both reference Strangers on a Train. I wish Stratton had fewer blind spots; there are quite a few underrated Arnie classics at least as good as this.

The Deep Blue Sea

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I had this one on the pile for ages, largely due to Dana Stevens's review and Rachel Weisz; David Stratton making it #28 on his list of marvellous movies prompted me to dig it up. I remember it getting widely reviewed at the time.

Briefly, Weisz is a (but-I-love-him!) wayward wife soon after WWII. She's a sensualist more interested in the idea of loving than being loved, or even respected. Her far-too-understanding husband Simon Russell Beale is some sort of judge who she tries to throw over for Tom Hiddleston; neither man is really having it. Most of the angst can be sourced to Loki's forgetting of Hypatia's birthday, leading to him BREXITing for a test pilot role in South America after she attempts an exit just as thoughtless and ludicrous. The dialogue is dodgy and wooden. The bickering lacks English reserve. The mood is soporific. The camera has Vaseline smeared on it. The solid cast is mostly squandered: in addition to the lurv triangle, Barbara Jefford has a lot of fun as Weisz’s mother in law while Karl Johnson haughtily does some necessary unlicensed medical work. I guess Fintan O'Toole would draw many parallels to England's current plight.

I have to wonder what Stratton saw in it. So far he's picked movies reliably in the 6-7/10 band at IMDB, which I tend to avoid; my threshold is 7 unless I have some other info.

A. O. Scott was also a fan, and Roger Ebert too, finding a basis for this movie in an excess of pity. Hmm. Ebert reminded me that they sing You Belong to Me in the pub, a song I know from Bob Dylan's rasping cover on the Natural Born Killers soundtrack.

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The day got away from me and by the time I got organised enough to get to Gordons Bay the skies had gone completely grey and the drizzle set in. Loads of idle seagulls both in the water and on the southern rocks. Just one bloke trying to fish. A bit filthy in, and a little rough at high-ish tide. It was too soggy to do much afterwards but come straight home.

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Mid-evening soak at the northern end of Coogee beach. After a stinking hot 40C-ish day a change blew through and rapidly cooled things off, so when I got to the beach a strong blustery southerly was blowing, making things a bit unpleasant. Noticably cooler in. Quite a few people still there but rapidly dwindling as conditions deteriorated.

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Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach. Not too many people about, perhaps due to it being overcast with much grey high cloud. The water seemed a little cooler than earlier in the month. Clean, highish tide.

In the Electric Mist

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#49 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Clearly he's a Tommy Lee Jones fan, who dominates almost all scenes as detective Dave Robicheaux. This means that none of the other characters gets sufficiently developed; for instance, Kelly Macdonald is criminally underused, as are Julio Cesar Cedillo, Peter Sarsgaard and a horny Mary Steenburgen. All make the most of nothing roles. John Goodman is not at all convincing as a smalltime underworld king. Several murders, some mystery. Some LSD-fuelled self-talk. The cinematography is occasionally gorgeous, largely by virtue of the natural beauty of the bayous of Louisiana. Somehow it doesn't get there despite the strength of the individual parts; perhaps that was due to the way it was assembled and abbreviated in the version I saw.

Nadeem Aslam: Season of the Rainbirds.

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Kindle. I've had this one sitting on the pile for ages. Aslam's debut recounts a week or so of soap opera in a small Muslim town somewhere in Pakistan, perhaps near Lahore; Arrubakook is mentioned but Google Maps knows it not. The monsoon is incipient. The many characters allow him to cinematically describe many locations: houses, courtyards, mosques, the legal and journalistic workplaces, the hairdresser's and his friend the butcher's. The now-crumbling school is built on a pool that was filled with rubbish. The judge gets murdered — politics, perhaps, or maybe his wife feared another pregnancy. The deputy commissioner has a Christian mistress. One of the local maulanas whose orthodox mosque is possibly in decline gets the most airplay. Some mail delayed by 19 years promises plot action that never comes. The date is implied by missiles being fired at Zia al Huq's plane, and flooding in Bangladesh. Loads of details and motifs: unrefigerated vaccines, utensils as weapons. Hunting birds: eagles, hawks, from the the mountains. The chapters end mysteriously with some italicised first-person child's view. Much is unresolved. There is little humour.

Reviews are legion. His later work is generally deemed superior.

Bulworth

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#19 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. Warren Beatty wrote, directed and starred, and that tells you exactly what to expect. The poster is an update on Ralph Steadman. Ennio Morricone did the score. Made in 1998, it's 1996: Clinton is campaigning for a second term against Dole, and Beatty's Californian senator is up too. Three nights without food or sleep lead to some seriously dodgy appropriation of hip hop culture. He falls in with an almost unrecognisably young Halle Berry, who mostly plays it straight. Beatty always gets the girl, right? Even when she's about a third of his age. The senator is a fan of KFC. Don Cheadle doesn't convince as a Compton gangsta. Nora Dunn plays a completely cliched journalist, much like she did in Three Kings. The CSPAN journo looks like Liz Jackson. The plot is sort-of powered by a naff self-assassination insurance scam. It's mostly about how U.S. politics gets funded. Colour no one surprised.

Janet Maslin. Roger Ebert.

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A mid-evening paddle off the beach at Gordons Bay. A seagull was hunting, like it didn't know about the easier feeds; another was snacking on the two-thirds of a watermelon someone had left at the waterline. Some people still around, but only one or two in. Flat, mid tide. It started raining as I got out, capping off a hot humid day that shaded into a mild windy overcast evening.

Buffalo Soldiers

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#17 on David Stratton's list of marvellous movies. It's an army satire that fits entirely in the genre. I enjoyed Joaquin Phoenix's performance as a supply specialist more than I usually do. Ed Harris doesn't quite function as an incompetent; conversely Scott Glenn is a natural hard man. Anna Paquin is Anna Paquin, and she does. I recognised Elizabeth McGovern as Deborah from Once Upon A Time in America by her signature look. I guess I got what I expected: a lesson about not cooking up heroin in a basement at a U.S. base in Germany while the Berlin Wall falls. Idris Elba turns up just in time to reinforce that point. Haluk Bilginer gets his end of the deal I guess, and life goes on. Director Gregor Jordan did Two Hands and is apparently just now having a crack at Tim Winton's Dirt Music.

A. O. Scott drew the connections back to Catch 22 and so forth. Roger Ebert did too. I concur with them that this movie is not marvellous but might be worth a watch.

The Mule

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At The Ritz, Cinema 2, 10am. I renewed membership for $17 and immediately burnt the accompanying freebie. Perhaps ten people total, all far older than me. I was somehow impatient to see this, perhaps because the Oscar bait has been so dire this year.

Clint Eastwood directs and stars. This is something of a counterpoint to Gran Torino: this time around he's incorrigible and his family irrelevant. We're in an Illinois of perpetual summer, and Clint is cultivating day lillies with help from some raffish and affable Latinos. Fifteen years later the internet has destroyed his business. You can infer the rest. Bradley Cooper is assured but banal; I don't understand why he got thanked by Larry Fishburne for busting the mule and not the hoods. I didn't recognise Andy Garcia. Taissa Farmiga is very weak in the role of the granddaughter; Alison Eastwood does better as the daughter. Clint is veiny and scrawny. He gets a tattoo in prison. He runs at the mouth in ways that would embarrass all of his previous characters. He's a good times sorta guy who goes for two women at once. The dykes on bikes take the heavy handedness in good humour. The story is not great: anyone younger than Eastwood might rush to judge the refurbishment of a veterans' drinking hole with drug money as completely authentic boomer behaviour.

Manohla Dargis. Christy Lemire.

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A vague snorkel attempt off the beach at Gordons Bay in the mid evening. The tide was way out, no swell. I saw approximately nothing due to very poor visibility. A kid was trying to fish off the southern rocks. Loads of people. No dogs until I got out, then just the one.

David Stratton: 101 Marvellous Movies You May Have Missed.

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Kindle. A brief and pleasant read. The selection seems pretty random: some are not that rare, others are pretty much lost to history. There are no Asian movies. Almost every Australian movie seems to have Ben Mendelsohn in it. He's a fan of Tommy Lee Jones and Jake Gyllenhaal. Only covers the period since 1980. I wish he could appreciate movies that disagreed with his politics, or sense of how politics should be portrayed, like Team America. I'd seen perhaps ten of these, and picked out about twenty to chase up.

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Late evening paddle at Gordons Bay. The tide was out so I got in off the southern rocks. Seemed clean, was flat. A couple of rowboats were doing laps of the bay, so I stuck to the southern side. Beautiful evening. A few dogs. Afterwards read some book and had a sandwich for dinner on the Coogee headland.

Harold and Maude

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I somehow thought this was a British production. Basically Harold stages suicides for the benefit of his mum who is some kind of landed U.S. gentry. Maude is almost 80. They meet cute at a couple of funerals (which serve the role of the support groups in Fight Club), with Maude taking the initiative. Fast times ensue in an America far less homicidal than now. Maude has a numbers tattoo. Maude is easy with other people's property. Maude checks out on her 80th as she telegraphed she would. Harold launches his hearse-ized Jaguar off a cliff. There's a Cat Stevens soundtrack. The humour is of a tediously predictable shape: something dire happens then Harold's mum remarks on something minor. Hal Ashby has his own subgenre. I found it hard to care.

A Star Is Born

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In two sittings. The fourth remake of a thick slice of Americana. Bradley Cooper stars and directs. Lady Gaga eclipses him; this is one for her fans. Sam Elliott, the cowboy from The Big Lebowski. Many others. No need for me to add to the cacophony.

Manohla Dargis. Dana Stevens. Both were wowed. Sam Adams wants to talk politics.

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Mid-evening soak at an epically flat Coogee. Seemed clean. Quite a few people still there. Afterwards I tried to read more book on the headland near the Bali memorial.

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Mid-evening paddle at Gordons Bay. High tide. Pleasant in. A few people about: a couple of guys fishing, a couple of families with the young boys on paddle boards. Very storm cloudy but no rain or forecast of. Read some more book on the Coogee headland after.

Tunes of Glory

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An Alec Guinness / Dennis Price segue from Kind Hearts and Coronets. A flimsy King Lear sort of thing: the politics of a Scottish regiment when the battleground-promoted stop-gap Colonel (Guinness in a kilt and dodgy accent) gets replaced by the permanent one (John Mills also in a kilt but presumably his native accent; last seen in Hobson's Daughter; Oscar winner for Ryan's Daughter). Price has a bit of a nothing role as a Judas. Susannah York plays Guinness's cliched daughter, and Kay Walsh his bit on the side. The self pity is a bit much, and the rest is not enough. All in all it merely reinforces the feeling that the British ruling class was never up to the job.

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I headed down to Gordons Bay mid-evening after a trying and hot day. Quite a few people still around. Two stingarees in perhaps half a metre of water put me off getting in from the beach. I figured they deserved some peace (which I don't think they got) and walked around to the southern rocks. It's warm out in the middle of the bay. Flat and seemingly clean. Very pleasant out too, with a mild sea breeze and almost clear sky. Had dinner on the Coogee headland after.

Kind Hearts and Coronets

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Second time around, and just as funny. In two sittings. Alec Guinness is hilarious as the entirety of the D'Ascoyne Family. Dennis Price is solid in the lead and has a lot of fun duking it out with wily life-long frenemy Joan Greenwood, making it with object of upright moral desire Valerie Hobson, and killing Guinness. Highly rated at IMDB but not in the top-250; what gives? I need to dig up more of these Ealing comedies.

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Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay off the beach. Seemed clean. A boat with four people paddling and a coxswain was doing laps of the bay. Quite a few people. Just the one dog. Dried off a bit in the dying light on Coogee headland.

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After drinking too much coffee too late yesterday, I had a mid-afternoon lunch on the grass out the back of Clovelly. Afterwards I read some more of Laura Tingle's most-recent Quarterly Essay, then went for a late afternoon snorkel off the scuba ramp at Gordons Bay. Loads of people there, some obliviously blocking the ramp. I saw the usual small fry, a larger groper, something with a mobile spine sticking out of its head (an old wife?) but not the big blue boy or any cephalopods. Lots of stingarees further towards the beach. Afterwards I finished that essay while drying off on the rocks.

Quarterly Essay #71, Laura Tingle: Follow the Leader: Democracy and the Rise of the Strongman.

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For some reason Randwick City Library changed eBook provider to Borrow Box, which meant installing yet another app and leaking still more personal data to unknown parties. I read this on the still-dying iPhone. This one dates from August 27, 2018, which was approximately when Turnbull got knifed for the second and presumably final time. I don't think it added up to more than a summary of what Tingle has read since her previous and far superior QE; for instance, what she got out of How Democracies Die (the subversion of institutions) is precisely the same as what Runciman helped make commonly known.

Tingle's points are often flat out wrong, and rarely justified. She seems overly credulous when she identifies the strongman with a political leader, especially when Trump is trying to do more-or-less what he promised albeit with unconventional means. Ultimately his main role might be to distract while the real business happens (or doesn't happen) elsewhere, and it is for these reasons that a government shutdown suits him just fine when it would be poison for earlier Presidents. Just like Bush War 2, I don't know how anyone could ever think that Trump made any progress with the situation in North Korea, let alone a breakthrough. We're told that political success implies popularity, but this is so clearly untrue of Tony Abbott. And Scott Morrison for that matter. And Bill Shorten. And ultimately John Howard. Oh yeah, what about Paul Keating?

I hadn't seen that much slab quoting since Alan Ramsey retired.

I could go on. Instead I propose that the right way to think about the leaders of modern Australian political parties is not along the lines of Ronald Heifetz's doubtlessly hugely valuable work but as pirate captains. The representative class is now essentially parasitic — they can't really make the pie any bigger by their own efforts, especially not without further environmental destruction or suicidally curtailing their cronies' activities — and the effective ones know all about the balance of terror. I'm going to see what Peter Leeson has to say about that.

The book concludes with responses to Dead Right. John Quiggin generously wrote the essay he wished Denniss had written. McTernan ripped Denniss apart at the level of technique. The Australian's economics editor Adam Creighton responded sensibly. I didn't read the rest.

There aren't many reviews out there.

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I thought I'd try Fish and Chix for lunch at Eastgardens: it's OK not great. The calamari are not as fresh as their advertising would have you believe. Afterwards I had half a thought to go for a swim at a Little Bay but settled for a coffee. Went for a walk around there and found a couple of parks at the southern end I didn't know existed. Read some more book on the phone at the Coogee headland, and then a brief paddle at Gordons Bay. Lots of cuttlebone on the sand.

Ben Frost: Widening Gyre at the Carriageworks.

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Part of the Sydney Festival. Booked 2018-11-26, $49.00 + $4.95 = $53.95. I rode over to the Carriageworks quite a bit before the 9pm scheduled start time with the idea of taking a look at Chicago artist Nick Cave's installation. The foyer is like someone blew up a peacock. Instead I finished my book. The ushers insisted I cloak my backpack.

I did buy Frost's The Centre Cannot Hold and the teaser EP back in 2017 but didn't wear it out like I did A U R O R A, so I guess you could say my expectations for this gig were managed. In any case his interview with Nancy Groves in 2015 already gave the vibe that this was the album too far. Well, perhaps what's missing can be made up for in format — eight speaker stacks surrounding his central console (cf the Chicago gig in 2014), statically spotlit — and extreme volume.

It got started promptly, with maybe 400 people generally admitted: some sitting around on the floor, or on one of the very few chairs, or standing around wondering what to do with themselves. Frost turned up in bare feet with his beard and long hair intact; his tattooed producer (?) looked heavily pregnant. Soon enough we were assailed by offcuts of the Chicago sessions and the odd identifiable riff from that new album. I used the earplugs I brought for the first minute or two; after that, well, it felt slightly less abusive than getting passed by a truck on the bike. The walls of roiling bass and unidentifiable noise weren't so much distressing as perplexing; they got my shirt to move, like a summer breeze. There wasn't a lot to hang on to: the identifiable note-like sounds seemed to point back to the early 1980s synthesizer work of Vangelis and co, and not Frost's very intriguing samples (bells, wolves, so forth).

Throughout the crowd hardly moved. There was a lot more talking that I would have expected, and it became very obvious every time Frost gave us some respite from the assault; his music didn't so much shut people up as get them to depart. I was surprised — what did they expect? Less pleasant was some aggressive heckling up close. Welcome to Sydney in 2019: nothing has changed.

It was all over in seventy minutes. Heaps of geeks crowded in after to photo his rig. I think everyone was left wondering if that was it, if there'd be more, or even a main course. I have to say I felt cured. Maybe Patric Fallon was right: maybe Frost is furious about the grim state of the world. But there's no need to take that out on us.

Apparently Frost was in Adelaide in December, and his music was accompanied by some visuals.

The Little Drummer Girl

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A recent BBC adaptation of a le Carré classic. Over several sittings and I wish it had been more. The cast is stellar. Florence Pugh was the draw after her mesmerizing efforts in the lead of Lady Macbeth. She leads here too, and there is no justice but no shame in her second billing to frosty Alexander Skarsgård (making a habit of le Carré) and icy Michael Shannon in perhaps his best role yet. Oldboy Park Chan-wook directs. It's a step back towards the mainstream from The Handmaiden (the last thing he did?) with little blood — none lurid anyway, no eating of live animals, some great arty shots and lots of juxtaposition. But yes, still a visual feast.

It's 1979 (I think) and master spy/concentration camp survivor/dry humorist Shannon is assembling a team to takes us deep into classic BBC TV territory: the days of fine John Cleese comedies and circuses righted by Alec Guinness, moral clarity and things worth fighting for. It's a Mossad operation of a sort, something that will progress the cause of peace in Israel, which Flo joins in a bout of credulity that is not really supported by her having the hots for Skarsgård (who coolly ignores the advances of her colleague). How does she know that the explosives in the vintage Merc she drives across Europe will be used for good and not awesome? The scenes at the Parthenon are gorgeous. Late in the game the training camp gets seriously Fight Club: an American reads the rules, and a Dennis Hopper clone goes off the rails. At some points I thought she wouldn't survive; she keeps getting told she doesn’t have to take things further, but she does anyway.

The plot is not holeproof, and is perhaps exactly the one pilloried in Team America. The climax is a bit difficult to square with the motivations of the puppet masters. A very few filming locations are used to evoke so much of the Cold War world.

Stephanie Bunbury. I have no idea why it's so poorly rated at IMDB.

Dan Davies: Lying for Money: How Legendary Frauds Reveal The Workings Of Our World.

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'Settlement'. The process of checking the trade’s paperwork, updating the shareholders' registers and sending the payments from the buyer's bank account to the seller's. The sort of thing which people, even very experienced traders and investors, don't tend to think about. People outside the market would presume that this happens instantaneously and auto-magically over big sophisticated computers and tend to be surprised and appalled when they find out the extent to which it doesn't. Actually, things have got a lot better since 2008, but that only means that if you wanted to carry out this sort of fraud [Bayou Capital] today, you'd have to do it in emerging markets or in credit derivatives or some other market with less efficient settlement systems than the New York Stock Exchange. Things tend to improve in settlement systems one megafraud at a time.
— Maybe! But that's not how the ASX sells it.

Kindle. Who doesn't want to know how to get away with financial fraud? This is a book-length expansion of that Guardian article. Amongst many others we're told about the massive Bre-X mining fraud, which reminded me of an otherwise forgettable McConaughey movie. Davies often points to the lack of existence of incentive-compatible mechanisms in many markets; for instance, pharmaceuticals start to look like movies and BitTorrent to me (and I'll have the generics thanks, even so). Particularly valuable are his explanations of why fraud cases are so difficult to prosecute and what to look out for. He gets funnier as he goes along as he builds up a foundation for referential humour.

The whole thing is worth a read, if only to see how pervasive trust is and how little that's going to change whatever the technology.

Kings Cross Theatre: A Westerner's Guide to the Opium Wars by Tabitha Woo.

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I walked over to Kings Cross in the soggy evening via Centennial Park, encountering a R1150GS at the corner of Oxford St and Moore Park Road. I brought some dinner and ate half of it in the little park opposite St Vincents Hospital, then had a beer, a White Rabbit Dark Ale, at the Darlo on the way past.

Tonight was the opening of the 2019 season for Kings Cross Theatre, and they kindly gave me a freebie to this very personal piece. The space was packed, with enough friends, family and similar indulgents to make the stories flow freely. Tabitha grew up in Tasmania in a family whose roots stretch back to Singapore and Ipoh in Malaysia, and hence to China. We got told about the relations between the Celestials and the English — she was great as royalty, particularly Elizabeth — and other things that might constitute a lesson at school. The second half riffs on China (and to a lesser extent, Asia) as constructed by America: musicals (Rodgers and Hammerstein; The King and I), themed dive bars, Chinatowns, yellow fever. (Missing was kung fu, Japan, a Chinese view of the West, and of course, Việt Nam.) Some singing, a sock puppet, humour, audience involvement that was not at all cringeworthy. I'd have liked to have understood the thread of it all better. She's a brave woman.

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Despite yesterday's rains I decided to go for a paddle off the southern rocks of Gordons Bay, which seemed clean enough at the time. Flat, seemingly warmer. Again the rain seemed imminent but held off until well after dark (or never). Very few people there: a couple had their two large dogs in the water and the woman was getting quite excited about them fetching things. Afterwards another dog on the beach. I dried off a bit on the Coogee headland. It seems that every few days there's another shark story; this one about a shark inside the net at Brighton Le Sands got me more concerned than most.

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Early evening paddle at Coogee amongst a thin crowd. The forecast storms didn't show up until 10pm or so, though some clouds were blowing through around then after a warmish and humid afternoon. Small waves. The water was deemed to be unclean by BeachWatch. Loads of people at the pubs.

Wildlife

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Paul Dano's first effort as director. Carey Mulligan is a young mum who gets moved to Montana with her son Ed Oxenbould by her never-do-well husband Jake Gyllenhaal. Jake promptly loses his job on the golf course and decides fighting more literal fires is what he needs to do as a man. Car dealing Bill Camp is somehow a temptation to the young ladies. The histrionic scenes are not good. Ultimately no more than a family drama featuring three odd socks. It seems such a shame to venture into David Lynch territory and come away with only this.

Glenn Kenny got right into it somehow.

Sydney Lyric: The Book of Mormon.

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With Pawel and Sylwia who got me a ticket on 2018-12-06 for $140 and a booking fee. I'd missed seeing this in Chicago a few years back. The Sydney Lyric theatre was packed; we were in row D near the centre, which was perfect. I don't think I'd been there before. Apparently it seats 2000 people but it didn't feel that big. We had a light dinner at Gojima beforehand.

All you need to know is at Wikipedia. Briefly, it's a product of the South Park minds (yes, it's scatological with something to offend everyone) and has been running since 2011. It explains while it entertains! — which sometimes made me wonder what their game really was. Many nods to 70s/80s geek culture (Star Wars, Star Trek, Douglas Adams, ...). We all enjoyed it. The cast seemed strong to me, but I don't go to many musicals.

Reviews are legion. John Shand.

The Old Man & the Gun

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Spacek and Redford meet cute: her truck has broken down on a motorway, and he's in need of a change of getaway vehicle. Their diner scene is not a patch on the one in Thief. Casey Affleck and fellow mumbler Tom Waits (OK, growler and mutterer), Elisabeth Moss abet and escape without too much reputational damage. This is a pile of hokey ageing philosophizing about one-time boomer dreams: the inability to stop yourself from the pure indulgence of robbing yet another bank, even when you're shacked up with a Spacek who has a vintage Merc, three horses and a massive spread. I got thinking that Redford could probably play Trump in the inevitable Oliver Stone biopic: they have a similar all-American smug smile, whatever their differences in politics and demeanor.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens reminds me that director David Lowery made A Ghost Story.

Smiley's People

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The BBC series, second time around. Over a couple of sittings. Also excellent.

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Late (3pm ish) lunch at Coogee followed up with a paddle in the surf with hundreds of others. The beach was hot (35C or more) and somewhat packed when I got there, but by the time I got in the change had rolled through with the storm clouds. Cold in with some waves. The storm only started for real around 6pm.

Ralph Breaks the Internet

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I thought I'd seen the original but perhaps I haven't. Disney and loads of branding makes for a tedious and unimaginative experience. Nothing there for me. I don't know what I was expecting.

Bilge Ebiri and Sam Adams seem to think that we need movies like this to understand the current internet.

Green Book

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A weakly-scripted road buddy movie barely held together by Viggo Mortensen who got to see writer/director Peter Farrelly squander Mahershala Ali up close. Somehow highly rated on IMDB. Almost entirely about sticking the moral superiority of the American North to the South circa 1962. Viggo doesn't evolve so very much: his initial casual racism is not so deep or convincing that he can't just roll with what the world sends his way. An empty shell of a thing.

A. O. Scott. Inkoo Kang. Odienator. Richard Brody.

A Lego™ Sisyphus kinematic sculpture.

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The equivalent of software engineering in Ancient Greece.

I stumbled upon Jason Allemann's amazing kinetic Sisyphus sculpture a while ago, and finally got around to buying the bits for a motorized one just before Christmas. It's very easy now: the rebrickable page will autofill your Bricklink wishlist, and a button on that site will go and find a small set of suppliers. I did business with Alpine Bricks in Austria and 3 BRICKS in Slovenia; amazingly I received only ony incorrect piece out of over 1200. I'm glad I held off as the redesign of last year reduced the cost significantly.

I spent perhaps ten hours building it over three lengthy sessions. The instructions are very straightforward for building techniques this clever. It felt like most of the time went into the decorative murals. It's large, works as advertised, and the mechanism didn't require any tweaks. I can't imagine pulling it apart.

Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy

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The BBC series, second time around. Over (only) a couple of sittings. Excellent.

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Early evening pseudo-snorkel off the northern rocks of Gordons Bay. Flat. The tide was up. Visibility was very poor: I saw just one large wrasse, a pile of small fry in shallow water, and no rays. A few storm clouds rolled over and kept going.

The Favourite

/noise/movies | Link

Had lunch in the Sydney CBD after trying to dig up the possibly-mythical Lego™ Chinese New Year sets. The goal was to burn my almost-expired Palace Cinemas membership freebie. I intended to go to the Verona for the 3:30pm session but found I could make it to the dear old Chauvel in time for their 2:50pm screening in Cinema 1 with perhaps 10 other people. It still hasn't been renovated.

Well, this is the sisterhood doing it to themselves a few centuries ago, in costume. It's a bit Lady Macbeth without Macbeth: to a man, the men are mostly inert and/or laddish, and their only memorable scenes involve a duck race and a naked porky squire being pelted with fruit by other parliamentarians or courtiers. (I was too sleepy to distinguish.) The main track has Olivia Colman laying it on as a sickly and indulged Queen Anne who is bossed by Rachel Weisz until fallen scrumpet Emma Stone turns up to reclaim her ladyhood, which seems to amount to the freedom to be a bitchy slut. Anne keeps seventeen rabbits: one per child who didn't make it. Weisz teaches Stone to murder some birds with long rifles. The cinematography sometimes employs an odd weird-out lens (such as a fisheye). Loads of four-letter words are thrown about, making it difficult to recommend to the BBC crowd. There is much riffing on the theme of ladywork. The story has some basis in history for those keeping score. Not much there for me on the whole.

A. O. Scott. Dana Stevens.

/noise/beach/2018-2019 | Link

Early evening paddle at Gordons Bay. Not many people still around then. Some big storm clouds were rolling through, but apparently the hail and so forth had spent itself in the Blue Mountains. Pleasant in. Lots of detritus near the shore, but seemingly clean further out. The tide was up. Flat. Dried out on the Coogee headland after and ate my dinner.